Through discussion with my students about what they do online and the different interactions they have through the Internet on a daily basis, it has become quite clear that they put little or no consideration into who COULD see their information or gain access to the content they use and put online. Their thought process usually entails them being well aware of who they INTEND to share things with but rarely does their thinking extend to the UNINTENDED audience that might access the content. Generally speaking, youth today interact flippantly with the Internet and are far less cautious than older generations because the Internet and the requirement for personal information on online sites is largely routine.

Students click, link, and share at an alarming rate with little forethought as to where their posts are going. As a middle school cheer coach, I’ve had many conversations with girls about the inappropriateness of sharing certain types of pictures and the potential for negative consequences to linger beyond the single incident at present. While a school suspension may seem like the end of the issue, new consequences could arise years later if the image(s) is found by a college admissions committee or future employer.

As adults with awareness of the dangers online and the necessary precautions for protecting your identity and reputation, it is our responsibility to not only teach them safe practices and habits, but have candid, personal conversations about why they need to be safe online. We cannot be afraid to talk to teens about why it’s unwise to send, share, or post inappropriate pictures of yourself and others. We must speak to them directly about the reality of “once online, always online”. Yes, there are safeguards and software that can help us keep our online exchanges private, but they are not guaranteed and will never be a equitable substitutes for personal integrity and self-responsibility.