Social media oversharing endangers kids’ futures

December 11, 2013 

With young people spending so much time on social media sites, many parents are rightfully concerned about how best to protect them from online predators and bullies.

Something else needs protecting while they’re at it: their child’s economic future.

It’s possible that someday, when today’s teenagers are running the world, employers won’t care what prospective hires have revealed about themselves on social media. It might not bother them that those fresh-faced, eager job applicants once posted selfies showing illegal or sexual behavior. Nobody will give a second thought to racist, homophobic, sexist or just plain mean comments made years before.

That will also be the day that neck tattoos, nose rings and quarter-sized ear gauges are considered standard business attire. In other words, not anytime soon.

Of course, many parents do try to impress on their children the possible consequences down the road of social media missteps. But kids have a talent for tuning out what mom and dad say. Maybe hearing it from someone besides a parental unit would have more impact.

How about the military’s top guy? Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is concerned about the potential damage young people could be doing to their future by posting questionable or illegal behavior online. It could hurt their chances for getting a security clearance or, if hired, a desired promotion.

Dempsey has more than a passing interest in the topic. He worries that so many young people are posting things that could disqualify them from military service that it might have an impact on defense readiness. He’s tossed around the idea of giving potential recruits a kind of do-over: The military will disregard their youthful social media misbehavior if they agree not to do it again.

It’s not a concrete proposal, but if the problem does become as big as Dempsey fears, it would be worth considering.

In the meantime, parents should make the effort to find out what their children are posting on social media. Kids need to understand that even if they think that photo or comment is being exchanged between trusted friends, that might not really be the case. The most salacious and damaging stuff tends to go viral pretty fast.

Young people need to realize that the Internet is forever. Somewhere, sometime – and maybe when they least want it – offensive posts may come back to haunt them.

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