Imagine if every journalist, partner, employer, police officer, teacher, political adversary, university administrator, public servant and anyone else with an internet connection (including your children or future children) had access to that information in the time it took to punch your name into a Google search.
For the rest of your life.
I feel the need to pause briefly here to give you a moment to reflect on the true nightmare of that idea as you mentally scroll through all your youthful indiscretions.
Gulp. Blush. Gasp. Cringe. Choke.
Oh the horror.
Fortunately for most of us, the idiotic behaviour of our school days endures only in anecdotes. Told at reunions or after a few drinks mostly. But what if they weren’t just funny stories? What if all the dumb decisions we made back then lingered like a virus, infecting every aspect of our future?
Welcome to reality for children and teens where everything they do online has the ability to seriously screw with their lives forever.
Trying to teach kids about cause and effect can be a tough gig, especially when ‘the future’ means next weekend. Science has proven that the part of the human brain responsible for processing consequences doesn’t fully develop until our early twenties.
Combine this with the fact that most kids are spending vast chunks of their lives online and most parents haven’t a clue what they’re doing there and you have trouble. Or the potential for it. If you asked the average adult what they need to protect their children from, they’ll instantly name “cyberbullying and paedophiles” as their biggest concerns. But the more obvious threat to kids online? Themselves. Because we’re not just talking about physical safety. There’s also the potential to damage their reputation, sometimes irreparably.
When President Obama spoke at a college graduation a few years ago, one student asked what she should do if she wanted to become President, Obama replied ‘Go home and erase your Facebook page’.
In a twist on this, many young adults are choosing to erase their identities instead. There’s an emerging trend in the US to change your name by deed poll to erase the digital evidence of your past so you can start afresh in the workforce.
Obviously, it would be better to avoid the whole deed poll thing by protecting your online reputation from the start, yeah? Yeah. So I’m gob-smacked by the number of parents who choose to be ostriches instead of helping their kids to navigate the digital world.