How early did you start worrying about the image you were portraying online?
If you’re a millennial, it was probably when you applied to college or your first job. Millennials were the first generation to find out just how their online activities could impact future opportunities, and in response, they started “cleaning up” their digital profiles.
Now, as this generation embraces parenthood, the question isn’t if they should share the lessons they learned about the long-lasting effects of our digital actions with their children, but when. When’s the right time to start talking about personal branding?
The answer is probably earlier than you think.
According to a recent study we conducted, only two percent of Generation Alpha – children 12 years old and younger – aren’t using any type of technology. Plus, Gen Alpha is spending roughly 34 percent of their time with friends online. From YouTube to online video games, Generation Alpha’s first steps offline and online are happening simultaneously, and their online personas are already starting to take shape.
This means the conversation around personal branding and reputation can’t wait. “Delete” doesn’t mean “gone forever,” and the online decisions made at 12 could shape future perceptions of your child.
Talking to your kids about their digital footprints isn’t as daunting as it seems – we promise! It’s probably very similar to the conversations you’re already having about how to behave in public. The online world is public after all, even if you’re sitting at home in your pajamas.
Start by Reflecting
Branding is about perception. Do others see you how you see yourself?
To show how branding works start with an exercise that asks the child to reflect on themselves.
Ask them questions like:
- How would you describe yourself? (ex. Brave, kind, smart, etc.)
- How do you show others these qualities? (ex. You share, you say nice things, etc.)
- What do you like most about yourself?
- What do you want others to think about you? Why?
Then, explain that this is their “brand.” This is who you are as a person, and it’s important to always be authentic or representative of that person, whether you’re saying things offline or online.
Read More: Raising a More Authentic Generation
More often than not, kids are not aware that we perceive others by their actions and judge other people according to things they do or say, and as of recently, what they post online.
It is pivotal to have this discussion as soon as the child begins leaving their online mark by themselves. If you reach out to the child in their teen or preteen years, it might be too late, since their opinions have already been formed.
Show Through Examples
Don’t just tell your child how important is to be aware of their digital footprint. Show them.
“Brand building” and “reputation” aren’t the first thoughts that come to mind when children join social media. They want to be on these platforms because it’s a place to connect with friends. But as your child gets older and wants to join social media, it’s important to show how these platforms are constantly shaping the perception people have about us.
Scroll through a few profiles on Instagram together and ask your child to describe each person to you. Do they seem kind? Funny? Mean? What makes you think that? What do their posts portray about their brand?
Explain that everything we post and say online – even if it’s supposed to “disappear” after 24 hours – reflects back on us. And to be honest, it can also continue to live on long after – if not as a screenshot, in the memories of those who saw it.
If you have a profile on social media, tell them what you’ve learned, mistakes you made in the beginning, how and if that influenced your image in high school, college, or when you first applied for work. Talk to them about your experiences, “cleaning up” your profile, and the fact that once something is posted online, it can go viral or lead to abuse, reach wider audiences and so on.
Don’t be ambiguous, point to exact situations when posting something would have an impact larger than they might perceive at the moment. Speak to them about their digital footprint, but don’t focus solely on cybersecurity. Instead, try to approach social media from the branding standpoint, too. Give them examples where their “branding” or how they are perceived might have an influence on their activities.
Mention that social media is a great way to stay connected not only with friends and family, but others who share similar interests. Tell them that it is a place where they can enhance their creativity by sharing ideas, art, or their taste in music. All their online interactions will define their persona, who they are, and how the world sees them.
It may seem strange to talk about the digital footprint of a 12-year-old, but unlike the Millennial Generation which encountered social media in high school and college, Gen Alpha encounters the online world the moment they watch their first cartoon on YouTube. Having these conversations early ensures they grow up with an online persona that truly reflects who they are.
.ME wanted to know more about how this generation uses technology, so we commissioned an independent study of more than 500 parents of Generation Alpha kids to look at how technology is affecting Gen Alpha relationships, academics, and social challenges. The study was conducted by an independent research agency in August 2019 and included a nationwide sample of 532 randomly selected parents of children 13-years-old and younger. If you want to get more technical, the margin of error was +/-4.25% at the 95% confidence level. Ethnicity and age breakouts are directional only.
This article is part of our series on Generation Alpha
We seek to provide answers to your most pressing questions about keeping your kids safe online, introducing them to the digital world, and helping them be their authentic selves online.
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