Lois M. Collins: Online antics can sideline even good kids, so be careful

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 3 2013 9:10 a.m. MST

Some students – and their parents – either have no ambition for a future beyond high school or they are not considering that the things they post online can have an impact on it.

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News that more colleges are checking applicants’ online presence shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone. But some students – and their parents – either have no ambition for a future beyond high school or they are not considering that the things they post online could have an impact on it.

Not only are some colleges looking, but so are some potential employers. Even if you don’t plan to go to college one day, it’s likely at some point almost every one of today’s teenagers will want to get a job or do something. Good kids could be sidelined by a lapse in judgment.

My girls are fairly well-behaved online. I like to think that it’s because they’re such lovely creatures, but I am well aware it may more accurately be attributed to the fact they know I sometimes scroll through their posts to see what they are putting out there for the world to see.

I’m OK with that, as long as the result is a well-behaved youth online.

Several recent news stories have indicated that most college applicants don’t think it will hurt their chances much if they’re shown in an unflattering or embarrassing light online. In some cases, they’re probably right. But I don’t understand why anyone would risk a future job or college entrance decision for the sake of some of the dreck that might turn a favorable decision into a solid rejection.

I’m not talking about the obviously stupid things, like the periodic goofy criminal who posts photos or videos of himself or herself committing a crime. What are you going to do with someone like that? I’m not even talking about the blatant cyberbullying that would certainly give me pause were I choosing a candidate for anything at all.

I am stunned by half-dressed photos of high school freshmen and sophomore girls who pout into the camera in provocative selfies or the string of profanity that laces posts about even mundane things like a shopping trip. If you have teens and have looked at their Facebook pages, you’ve probably seen some of their friends and classmates in embraces that should be at the very least private. I guarantee scrolling through posts will convince you that swearing has moved into everyday speech, no holds barred.

I’m glad I didn’t grow up in an online world, where things don’t disappear. Kids don’t always show good judgment, which is one reason parents — and parenting — are important.

I can’t help but wonder where the parents are when I see certain posts on Facebook, Instagram or Tumblr. I had a friend tell me recently that she trusts her kid online. I trust mine, too. But I verify. That’s part of my job as a parent.

More than that, we talk about potential ramifications to the things the girls can do online, from “meeting” someone who is not what he or she appears to be to identity theft, to cyberbullying to self-sabotage.

I can’t guarantee my kids are not doing things they shouldn’t in some online forum I have yet to discover, although I’ve found them pretty open about where they go online. I can guarantee, though, that if they are creating problems for themselves, they don’t have a simple “I had no idea” defense. They cannot claim they have not been warned.

I can also guarantee that, were I in position to hire some of the youths I encounter in cyberspace, I’d have to think about it pretty hard and ask some questions before I’d even consider them. I’d probably lean toward hiring the candidates I’d not seen quite so much of physically or those whose love lives and drinking habits were a mystery to me.

EMAIL: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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