Managing reputation 

We all have a “digital footprint”. Every time you visit a website, it’s stored in the history section of your browser; if you sell stuff on eBay, every sale you make is registered, recorded and can be rated by the buyer; if you post a comment on a news website, it might remain there forever. At the same time, other people might also make comments about you or tag you in a photo online.

What do I need to know about my child's digital reputation? 

Young people are increasingly creating their own digital content as a way of expressing opinions and engaging with the people who matter to them. But, because they’ve grown up with technology, they might not tread as carefully as you when publishing information about themselves on the internet or sending stuff via their mobile and other devices. They might even take on a completely different persona online.

They don’t realise that posting something online is like printing something on the front page of a newspaper – soon everyone could know about it. In other words, what goes online, stays online.

“Everything young people do online contributes to their digital reputation. Help them develop an online reputation that is an asset rather than a liability.” Marsali Hancock, Internet Keep Safe Coalition


Ultimately, your son or daughter might not understand that the things they write or images they post or send in the digital world could have a huge impact on their reputation in real life, over a long period of time. The main reason is that anything you post online can be searched for and retained by other people – once it’s out there, you can’t take it back. For example:

  • Their blog or social networking profile might contain comments, photos or videos they wouldn’t want fellow students or teachers to see. It’s not uncommon for admissions tutors and employers to look up applicants on the Web, for example, so your child could be risking a future college place or job if they’re irresponsible in their digital world
  • They might download and share music or other content illegally
  • Someone might publish footage of them doing something silly, embarrassing or reckless (like getting drunk, joyriding or getting intimate with a boyfriend or girlfriend) on a video-sharing website like YouTube
  • They might exchange intimate or naked photos with people they know via email or text (sometimes under pressure from their boyfriend or girlfriend), which could be passed around a wider group. This can make young people – girls, in particular – extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation
  • They could make a nasty comment (often referred to as “flaming” or cyberbullying) in an email, IM or text or on someone else’s wall (on their social networking page) or blog that they later regret
  • Someone else could set up a fake profile about your child on a social networking site and say negative things about them or make it look like your son or daughter is behaving badly

It’s therefore crucial that you help your child to understand the potential consequences of their behaviour in the digital world so that they can protect their reputation in real life.

What action can I take? 

Stress that the internet is a public place, that anyone could see what they post, such as comments or images, and that it might be there forever – would they really want fellow students/teachers/admissions tutors/future employers/strangers to see offensive language or inappropriate photos they’ve posted?

Encourage them to make the most of built-in privacy tools – they can set their social networking page or blog to “private”, for example, so that only invited people can see it – and help them to understand how important it is to keep their private and public lives separate

Explain to your son or daughter that every time they go online they leave a trail – they’re not anonymous as they can be traced via their unique IP address. Similarly, when they use their mobile, their network provider makes a record of any calls

Sit down regularly with your child and type their name into a search engine so they can see what comes up about them – they might be surprised

Encourage them to ask permission before publishing photos and videos of their friends or family on the Web (and to ask their friends to do the same) – not everyone wants to be famous

Explain why it’s important that they’re honest when registering for websites – many of the leading social networking websites, video-sharing websites and blogs have a minimum age limit and tools to keep them safe but this relies on young people giving their real age

Discuss how they could be breaking the law if they make comments about someone online (what they say could be slanderous, for example)

Talk to them about the consequences of sharing intimate or naked images online or via their mobile (called “sexting”) – you can find more information about this in our article about exploring sexual identity

Did you know?
According to research by Microsoft, 43 per cent of European teenagers believe that it’s completely safe to post personal information online and 71 per cent post photos and videos of themselves and their friends on social networking websites.

Managing Reputation video