High School Students and Online Identity – It Matters


Rob Zidar

We talk to parents all the time about what their kids and teens are doing online. The answers we get are varied, but many are of a theme that comes up all too often:

  • Ashley doesn’t use social media.
  • Danny doesn’t use Facebook.
  • Well, I know Braden is on Facebook but he friended me so I can see everything he is doing.

Once a child reaches 14 or 15, the truth is usually something very different, whether parents are fully aware or not. A lot of parents think social media begins and ends with Facebook. It doesn’t. There are dozens of social media networks around, with new ones popping up every week. Some parents also think online activity happens primarily on a child’s desktop or laptop computer, but many teens are using social media mostly or exclusively on their phones.

When we conduct an audit on a teen, we usually find half a dozen or so spots online where he has an identity, either on websites or social media – and often the number is much higher. A teen’s total online identity, rather than the presence on any one particular site, is what’s most important.

If you say to a kid, “who are you?” he knows the answer and can tell you all about himself. But when a college admissions officer, college athletic coach, a first potential employer or even the police ask that themselves that question, it’s important that a teen’s online presence projects the public image that shows him in the best light.

For example, a college admissions officer will be looking at:

Academics – Course work, grades and test scores

Accomplishments – Athletics, extra-curricular activities and community service

Character – Who you really are

If your son has done his college application thoroughly, his academics and accomplishments will be very clearly laid out, but we haven’t yet seen a college application that includes the question, “Are you a good person?” In today’s era of the Internet and social media, the character part is open to the interpretation of the viewer admissions officer, who will be free to use any and all online content on the applicant to make his character determination.

Having an online identity that makes you look lazy, frivolous, mean-spirited, racist, bigoted or a possessing a host of other negative traits can be devastating. One’s online image can be improved, or kept pristine from day one, but it is no trivial task. All teens, with the help of their parents, must consider each of the following about their online image:

Content and conduct – What you are posting online and what it says about you to an observer.

Friends – Who you interact with online (and what they do and say) also says something about you.

Frequency – How often do you post online? Is the amount of time you spend online crowding out other more important activities?

Things posted about you by others – Have a plan for knowing when others are posting about you, and what you can do about it. Talk to your friends about not making negative posts about you, even in jest, and think carefully before adding people to your network who aren’t really friends.

Ancient history – Are there social media accounts that you’ve forgotten about or don’t use anymore? They’re probably still around.

Privacy settings – Set most of your social media accounts to private, but not all of them. If you are 100% private, you may look like you have something to hide. (Hint: leave Facebook set to public, since your parents are probably watching you there anyway, and set up a clean and professional looking LinkedIn account). If, on the other hand, all of your accounts are public, you won’t have enough control over your online image.

Consistency with your college goals – Pro tip: With your public Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, the ones that your grandma could look at and smile, post things that express some consistency with your college or career goals. If your college app says that you’ve always wanted to be a veterinarian, and your online image is totally devoid of animals, you’re putting yourself at risk.

There is no foolproof way to be online and dodge all the potential pitfalls, but a little time and effort can put you in good stead to avoid most of them. Going the extra mile to craft a public online image that answers the “who are you?” question in the most positive light is biggest favor you can do for yourself online.


Rob Zidar is ThirdParent’s co-founder and executive vice president of operations. ThirdParent specializes in Internet safety for teens and kids- providing discreet, professional online monitoring and reporting services to equip parents with the tools and resources needed to proactively safeguard the privacy and reputation of their kids online. As an online reputation management and Internet safety expert, Rob is frequently sought after by the media and organizations to speak to parents and teens about online security and reputation management. Outside of ThirdParent, Rob is a father of three and lives with his family in Montgomery Township, N.J.

Visit www.ThirdParent.com.


Back-to-School Online Safety

Neville Pattinson Gemalto

Neville Pattinson

As the nation gears up to send its kids back to school, parents, guardians and teachers may find themselves shopping for the latest education-technology gadgets, particularly tablets and smartphones. But with these purchases come responsibility – on our part and the parts of the students who will be using them.

When we think of identity fraud, we tend to picture adults as the victims. But theft of children’s identities has become more commonplace in recent years. Given that more than one-third of middle-school students now use smartphones for schoolwork, our kids – and potentially our kids’ sensitive personal information – will likely soon begin spending far more time exposed to the online world.

That’s why we believe it’s so important for websites of companies catering to children to offer additional online-safety assurances to kids and their families. Added transparency about who will be interacting with children on a specific website, as well as verifiable credentials, will go a long way toward allaying parent and educator fears – and keeping minors’ personal data secure from hackers, identity thieves, phishers and marketing scammers.

I urge kid-centric sites to consider implementing an approach which would truly protect minors online. Parental control is key here. Essentially, a parent should oversee their children’s cyber presence. A parent should engage with specific content providers or an identity provider to establish their identity and then associate their children’s pseudo-anonymous online Identities to their account where consent has been granted. The use of pseudo-anonymous identities for kids helps keep any children’s personal identity information masked. The children could then use their online identities to access specific websites in a controlled and private manner. Ideally, all the companies opting into such a system could be added to a whitelist of kid-safe sites, creating a perimeter inside which both parents and children can be assured they are interacting with only other verified users.

Most important in creating and implementing such a system will be verifying the age of a user while keeping that user’s identity anonymous and secure. The site that succeeds there will be a leader in web-browsing safety.

It’s imperative for the good of our children and the future of the Internet that we have this conversation. By bringing this initiative to light, we’ll foster communication and collaboration between companies working on the back end to provide assurances to front-facing consumers (i.e., parents and teachers). Our end goal should be to implement a safe, secure and effective system to ensure child online privacy.


Neville Pattinson is the Senior Vice President for Government Sales at Gemalto, Inc. based in Austin, TX. Within that role he constantly evangelizes the need to move to smart card based solutions to protect both identity and privacy. Mr. Pattinson is a leading expert and thought leader on digital security identity solutions such as smart cards, electronic passports and hardware tokens that use secure microprocessor chips to keep identity credentials including biometrics secure and private. 

Maintaining Privacy in a Sea of Selfies

Chief Community & Safety Officer, MindCandy.com

Rebecca Newton, MindCandy.com

Kids love to express themselves  – on their own or in a group, they thrive on self-expression.  They’ll draw, talk, sing, dance, move, build and participate in anything creative.

Where better than the online world to express themselves?  It provides a global platform for collaboration and allows even the shyest of kids to participate in digital mob merriment and, sometimes, mayhem.


Digital Self-Expression

Just what is it that kids are up to online? In a word, Selfies. In the 1980s and 90s we had ‘Glamour Shots’  (and possibly too many of them). Since the big hand hit 12am on January 1st 2000 and brought us in to the 21st century, a highly popular method of self-expression has emerged in the ‘Selfie.’ Selfies have most definitely found their place in digital posterity. On a daily basis, I witness pretty much every kid (and teen and adult and some canines) publishing a Selfie.

As an example, here’s a photo of my one-year-old grandson, who is too young to create his own Selfie, or so I assume. His siblings collaborated on the ‘Selfie’ using an app on their parents’ device, and the family posted it straightaway on Facebook. I was thrilled when it popped up in my Facebook newsfeed and grabbed within minutes. And here I am, one month later, using it in a public post. A public post about privacy, in fact. Within seconds, downloaded from Facebook by me (his ‘Grammy’), then republished by myself within a month. (Photo used by permission.)

Trust and Digital Publishing

Entertaining as the Selfie may be, there is a more serious side to instant publishing to consider. As adults we know that once we press the ‘send’ button, that’s it. We will have very little control over what we’ve just published. But kids are open books and share monsters. They have trusting hearts and trending heads  — if everyone else is doing it, they’re not going to be left standing on the sidelines watching.

Instant trust and instant publishing are very good reasons as to why privacy matters. There’s no point in trying to stop the Selfie train. It left the station a few years back. But there is a point in making sure parents of kids under 13, per the FTC’s COPPA 2.0 regulation, understand they have a choice in what, how and where their kids publish content online. The FTC requires app and site developers (who target kids or have ‘actual knowledge’ of kids using their app or site) to obtain verified parental consent (VPC) for every US citizen under 13 if the site or app collects or allows the disclosure of personally identifying information (PII) from the child. That’s the thumbnail version. If you’re desperate for legalese and much of it, you can read all about COPPA here. For the Wikipedia version, click here.


That Pesky Privacy Thing

In response to the *COPPA 2.0 verified parental consent (VPC) requirement, industry has done exactly what the FTC had hoped and developed technology to serve as the conduit between website operators and parents.

Age verification systems are possibly the “PayPal ™ solution” to a complicated regulation that has the best of intentions but has ended up creating a privacy conundrum — all in the name of protecting privacy.  That’s a subject worth 1000 blogs, another time, another place. The bottom line is, the regulation is in effect so we must find a way to work with it if we want to

  • Provide creative and fun digital apps, games and products for kids
  • Make a living doing the above

5 Minutes for Reassurance

It’s a parent or guardian’s right to understand who’s tracking your child (third party ad vendors, for instance), how they’re tracking your child (behavioral advertising), and what they’re doing with the tracked information (selling it? Pushing behavioral ads to your kids? Or, to be fair, simply nothing). Developers and web operators have a responsibility to inform a site user, regardless of their age, as to what they’re going to do with the data they collect. We should expect to receive information allowing us to make knowledgeable digital choices.  This is what the FTC wants to accomplish with the COPPA rule.

Parental consent mechanisms or systems are the most expedient way to achieve the above. We sometimes fear the unknown and withhold consent with our right hand while our left hand clicks “AGREE” without reading 12 pages of legalese.  The web industry initially experienced fear about online banking, online purchasing, PayPal and many other online systems that are now part of our every day lives (including Selfies).  The VPC systems are coming to an app or web page near you, and they’re coming soon. I think we’d all be in agreement that our children’s or grandchildren’s digital privacy is worth 5 minutes of our time giving consent to a trusted online mechanism (third party) that will collect so SO very much less information than Google, Facebook, or Amazon collects about us all day, every day.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed that industry solutions will be user-friendly, quick, and data-safe. I believe they can and will be so.

In the meantime, I’m going to Google (verb) ‘canine selfies ‘and check Facebook for my grandson’s latest sibling-generated Selfie!


Rebecca Newton is the Chief Community and Safety Officer at MindCandy.com, a family digital entertainment company based in London, England. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where she has been a professional musician by night for over 3 decades. She has an affinity for kids, canines and technology.


Twitter: @RebeccaNewton

Google +RebeccaNewton

Some resources on COPPA and Privacy