As millions of American students started the school year online, it’s important kids understand their digital footprint, or history of online activity, will also grow, says Dr. Asra Hamzavi, psychiatrist and owner of Hamzavi Psychiatry and Wellness Center in Bloomfield Hills.
“The biggest lesson our kids need to know is that whatever goes online has the potential to follow us for the rest of our lives.”
The consequences of a bad digital footprint can impact college choices — and what college officials find can hurt way more than not getting enough likes on a post. It can be part of the decision on whether the student is a “right fit” for the college.
A 2019 poll by Kaplan Test Prep found that 36 percent of college admissions counselors visit applicants’ social media profiles including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube to learn more about them.
How to clean your social media
What can parents do to help their kids establish a positive social media presence?
According to Hamzavi, a mother of four, the most important tool parents have is talking with their child from the beginning about values and how they can stick to them online. Establishing basic online rules, such as not posting about someone if you wouldn’t say it to their face, can help children to build a healthy media presence.
For older children who already have multiple social media accounts, the desire to clean up their online presence must come from them.
Julie Fisher, social media expert, author and founder of Your Digital Guardian, says part of the problem parents face is they don’t even know where their kids are online. Parents may know about their kid’s Instagram but not their Finstagram, a fake Instagram account where teens share more candid posts with close friends.
As a guest speaker, Fisher has taught thousands of students at Metro Detroit public schools her seven steps to cleaning up an online presence:
- Be your authentic self! Don’t have a fake persona, but understand other people will judge you through their own lens.
- Take out the trash! Clean up your language before applying for college. Go back and edit or delete posts that have foul language. Fisher advises juniors in high school start cleaning up their social media accounts.
- Opt out of tags. You can be making great decisions and friends can be making rotten ones. You don’t want other people making decisions about how you are portrayed online.
- Practice the two-second rule. It’s important for kids to ask themselves, am I comfortable with teachers, parents, admissions counselors, police, clergy, coaches seeing this? If not, it shouldn’t be online
- What’s in the red Solo cup? Make sure your posts won’t be misinterpreted. A picture of a teen holding a red Solo cup may be an innocent cup of juice, but the viewer may think it’s alcohol. You never get a second chance to make a good impression.
- Live by the golden rule online, as you would offline. Don’t be a jerk.
- What goes on Instagram stays on Instagram. Accounts may be private and tags may be limited but anyone can take a snapshot of a screen. Today’s friend may be tomorrow’s enemy.
Students shouldn’t clean-up their social media by deleting their accounts, however. When college decision makers are looking for candidate’s online presence, not finding any can raise red flags.
Fisher suggests high school and college students do add one digital outlet, LinkedIn, so they can be found online.
Finally, she advises parents to breathe. “They’re going to make mistakes. We need to recognize it. Not catastrophize it, and tell them, ‘Let’s fix this. I’m going to be your partner,'” she says.