How a teens Digital Footprint can keep them from college, scholarships, or other opportunities – 6-Practical tips to help teens use social media responsibly

Photo Credit: Royan Lee

Photo Credit: Royan Lee

Recently I was casually searching the internet looking for college scholarships for my daughter.  Interestingly, many of the applications asked that the students to hare their social media profiles.  Of course the request was optional, however it brought my mind to my days of corporate recruiting and I immediately realized the secret that’s not so secret.

As a recruiter,  I would always search a candidates digital footprint.  If you had a profile, I read it.  If you tweeted something, I read it.  If you were on LinkedIn, I would find you.  Yes, if you had a YouTube video I watched.  Did the behavior and/or comments play into my hiring decision? YES, it did.

When I talk about “Social Media Responsibility,” I’m simply stating that our teens be mindful that their digital footprint could help or hinder them now or later in life.  Their words and actions may seem harmless,  however as they apply for colleges, scholarships, jobs, internships, etc., their actions could come back to squash their dreams.

I’ve written about and read many “real life stories,” of teens who have lost opportunities due to their online behaviors.  For example, an all-star high school athlete lost his college scholarship, because of his negative tweets about practice and the team; or the high school student who lost her college scholarship after making damages comments about her teacher or the White House official who was fired over his “anonymous” twitter account. Your digital footprint includes anything you have posted online including comments, likes, shares, etc.

Here are a few tips, to help you and your teen discuss and review their digital footprint and talk about the importance o using social media responsibly.

1.  Search your name.  Have your teenager enter their name in a search engine and review the results.  During this search, they will now see what others can access when they are looking for information about them.  If their name is fairly common, simply add their city, high school or other identifier to yield better results.

2.  Create a Google Alert.  Set up an alert to include your child’s name or have them do it.  When you set up an alert, you will receive an email if your child’s name is mentioned anywhere on the Internet.  Simply go to and set up your account.

3.  Mindful posting and sharing. Disparaging comments about school, teachers, classmates, use of profanity, etc., can be used to judge your teen’s character and overall “fit” for opportunities.  No, it may not seem fair, but such is life.  Ask your child: “In the larger scheme of things, is your future worth, a comment you made in that doesn’t really serve any uplifting purpose?” If your child, has comments about someone else (and they could be valid), encourage them to talk about it offline.  They also want to be extra conscientious about the photos they share.

4.  Examine Profile Content and Profile Names  This is a great time to have your teen review all of their online profiles.  Believe it or not, I encountered a job candidate with the Instagram name “Pretty B*itch.” OK, I don’t think I need to say anything else about the importance of Profiles and Profile Names.  Right?

5.  Review Privacy Settings.  Make sure your teen’s social media profiles and activities are shared only with friends.  When I speak with audiences, I encourage them to discuss the “definition of a friend.”  A friend is someone you know offline, someone who I have seen in person, they have been to the house or I know their parents.  A friend is not a “friend of a friend,” or someone I “kinda” know.   Also, with secure privacy settings it makes it a little harder to follow your digital footprint. (Everyone is not Inspector Gadget, like me.)

6.  Audit and Delete.  Although, we know once it’s out there…it’s out there, you may want to encourage your teen to go back and delete anything that could hurt them in the future.   Many recruiters, colleges, etc. won’t go through the extra trouble of using “detective skills” to find material that has been deleted.  Going back and deleting posts that don’t serve a higher purpose, might exhibit a sense of maturity and accountability.


College admittance, scholarships, and internship opportunities are competitive enough, and you don’t want your digital footprint to be the negative deciding factor.  Have the conversation with your teen, today.


Marlin Page, “Chief Technology Mommy,” serves as an Online Safety Evangelist exposing “real life” internet and social media stories impacting children around the world and providing practical tips to empower  parents to keep their children safe on the Internet while encouraging teens to use social media responsibly.   Marlin is a Globetrotting Speaker, Founder of Sisters Code,  STEM Advocate, and thought leader on bridging the racial and gender gap in technology and eliminating the digital divide.   Marlin’s book and music CD, “Always Believe,” empowers girls to love themselves, believe in themselves, and celebrate their uniqueness.  Also known as the “Excuse Annihilator”, Marlin created the “No Excuses Movement” line of T-Shirts. 
  • Speaking and Media Requests: or call 313-575-4078
  • Twitter: @marlinpage


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