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In the United States, 92% of children have an online presence by the time they are two. It’s no surprise parents love to post photos of their children on Facebook™ and to share first steps with family on the baby’s very own blog. Soon after, those children get older and are posting status updates and photos of their own, often indiscriminately.For the next generation, personal blogs and Facebook are quickly becoming the new “virtual photo album.” And, unlike the albums our parents put together, these are indexed by Google™ and will surely find their way to the desks of prospective employers. In fact, a study conducted by Microsoft® found that 70% of hiring managers admit to rejecting candidates because of information they found online. To a lesser degree, schools of higher education also report researching prospective students via search engines (16%) and social networks (17%).

It looks like it might be time to add online privacy management to the curriculum and to help your students and their parents understand what goes online, stays online. We’ve put together a few tips in this e-newsletter to help you help students avoid online privacy blunders.

Educate parents
Most often a child’s online presence is begun by their parents. That’s why educating parents about making good choices is key to children’s online futures. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Make “Online Safety Tips” a regular column in your school’s newsletter. For topic ideas, take a look at the Microsoft® “Age-based guidelines for kid’s Internet use” or check out the Reputation.com “HowTo Articles” for parents.
  • At parent teacher conferences, set up a table with information about online safety. Talk to parents about their role in their child’s digital future. As an exercise, ask parents to think of every piece of information they share online as a digital tattoo. Explain that once it’s posted they can’t take it back. When it comes to information about their son or daughter, encourage them to ask, “Is this something I want to my child to live with five years from now?” Reinforce the idea by handing out custom temporary tattoos bearing your school’s logo.
  • Host an evening social media event for parents. Schedule speakers to talk about social media and Internet privacy. (Tip: Often, you can find a social media expert by contacting local marketing and advertising agencies. Your newspaper may also be able to recommend a speaker.) While parents are learning, have children decorate magnetic picture frames imprinted with the message “Remember my digital future.”

Declare a data privacy day at your school
While you may have missed the official Data Privacy Day (it was on January 28, 2011), you can still dedicate a day in your school to educating students about the privacy of their online data. Kick off the day by attaching mini cyber mirrors to school computer monitors with imprinted reminders to students and staff that what they post online always reflects back to them.

Keep students thinking about their online privacy by planning activities or lessons throughout the day:

  • Help younger students manage their online reputation early on by teaching the golden rule: Treat others the way you would like to be treated. Begin the exercise with a prepared list of sentences, such as those students would post on Facebook. As you read each out loud, have students decide if it is positive or negative, does it make them feel happy or sad? Reward students who practice the golden rule with smiley face pencils.
  • Teach high school students how privacy settings can determine what information is displayed on online public profiles. Distribute packs of Post-it® Notes and ask students to write down 25 facts about themselves; facts can be anything from their name to where they vacationed. Next, establish two columns titled “World” and “Friends” and ask students to separate their facts into the appropriate columns based on what facts should be shared with which group. Have students explain why they chose what they did, discuss the pitfalls of those assumptions and how privacy settings can assist them online.
  • Show college-aged students how their “virtual photo album” can affect their job outlook. Ask students to enter their name into Google and rank each result on a scale of one to five -five being a result that would have the most positive effect on a prospective employer’s opinion. Brainstorm, as a class, ways students could improve what employers see about them online. Have students set up a Google Alert so each time a new search result with their name appears on Google they will be notified via e-mail. This is a great tool to help students continue to monitor their online reputation.

A little early education will keep your students from learning about mismanagement of online information the hard way. Your students will thank you when they walk into their first big interview.

“Digital Birth: Welcome to the Online World | Business Wire.” Press Release Distribution, EDGAR Filing, XBRL, Regulatory Filings | Business Wire. AVG Technologies, 06 Oct. 2010. Web. 13 Feb. 2011.

Online Reputation in a Connected World. Rep. Cross-tab, Jan. 2010. Web. 13 Feb. 2011. .

Ganim Barnes, Ph.D., Nora, and Eric Mattson. Social Media and College Admissions: Higher-Ed Beats Business in Adoption of New Tools for Third Year. Rep. 2009. Web. 10 Feb. 2011.

“How To : Is It Safe to Post Photos of Your Kids Online? : Reputation.com.” The Leader in Online Reputation Management : Reputation.com. Web. 13 Feb. 2011.

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