This article is made possible by a partnership with the Marion County Commission on Youth. Indy with Kids is proud to support the work of MCCOY and help communicate information that is important for the youth of our community.

Written by Jacie Farris

A few months ago, we wrote a blog about cyber safety and cyber bullying prevention. This month, we want to discuss a different aspect of cyber safety, specifically as it relates to employment and educational prospects.

EmployIndy has an initiative called Job Ready Indy, which focuses on cyber safety as it relates to employability. Participants, who range in age from 16-24, learn about professional communication through various platforms while also discovering how to network and job search online.

“No matter your age, being safe online is a high priority,” said Ashley Downey, manager of the Job Ready initiative. “Understanding what type of information, whether it is in written posts or images, to share is critical. Without realizing it, we reveal quite a bit about ourselves through our posts. Take a picture in your favorite sweatshirt and you have just shown everyone where you go to school. Post a picture of your kids on the first day of school in front of your house, and now your followers know your house number. We use social media to connect and share our lives, but it is important to realize that once posted, your information is out of your control. You are able to set your privacy settings to minimize who can look at your profile and posts, as well as who can post on your profile, but this safeguard can only go so far due to the nature of social media. It is better to ensure that you screen each post in order to identify any unintentional sharing of information. As youth utilize social media, they need to be aware of these pitfalls.

Downey continued by acknowledging that, in addition to our own safety, we also need “to talk about protecting the privacy of others. Posts about co-workers, clients, company policies, attitudes towards work, etc. need to be considered as well. What teens post, organizations they become involved in, and conversations they have now are forming their online reputation. Their online reputation is their brand. It is how many organizations first know a teen, especially when they are starting out in the workforce.

According to Downey, a 2018 CareerBuilder survey showed that 70 percent of employers used social media accounts to screen potential job candidates, and 34 percent of employers said they have “reprimanded or fired an employee based on content found online.”

The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office provides a free program called “Project Cybersafe,” which focuses on highlighting the impact of cyberbullying and the potential dangers of social media.

In our presentations, teens generally can articulate to us what is not acceptable or appropriate to post,” said Kristen Martin, juvenile community prosecutor for the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office. “However, when it comes to social media, it is hard to comprehend how far and fast your communication can go. Bad decisions can be made with a click of a button that could have lasting consequences. Many times, teens see their friends’ or followers or various celebrities making poor choices and never see a consequence for those posts. This can leave teens with an impression that there is no accountability for posting inappropriate content online.

In an effort to develop safer digital habits, youth should follow a few helpful guidelinesDowney shared her “golden tips” for youth, especially those who are looking for jobs:

  1. Stay positive. Employers will want to know how you will fit into their company culture. If it appears that you are always at the center of drama or conflict, they might have second thoughts. 
  1. Keep it PG. This goes for images, memes, videos, and written posts. Use the “Grandma Rule” if you are unsure. (Essentially, if teens are not comfortable with their grandma seeing their posts or images, they should probably not post it.Chances are, if you question it, it is probably not a good idea to post. 
  1. If you retweet, like, and/or share someone else’s post, you are essentially endorsing the thoughts contained within it. It does not matter if it is technically yours or not.

Your posts on social media are a reflection of your character and what type of employee you will be,” said Martin. “This is valuable information to assist an employer in determining who should get opportunities. Many employers have social media policies or standards and if an applicant is in violation of the policy prior to an interview, that communicates a strong message. Teens should consider checking all their privacy settings and removing questionable content from social media before applying for a position. It would also be beneficial to enlist the help of a trusted adult or mentor to look at what is available publicly and share their thoughts.

Youth need guidance from parents and caregivers to put their best foot forward in the world. With that in mind, adults need to know about the impact of social media and be ready to have discussions with their youth about privacy, ethical standards, etc.

Continue to engage youth in conversations regarding the importance of being safe and responsible while navigating and utilizing social media,” said Martin. Mistakes will happen while using the internet, so parents, caregivers, and community members should take the opportunity to use the mistake as a teachable moment and help the youth correct their behavior, so their future opportunities are not negatively impacted. A great way to engage with youth on the subject is using current events stories to spark conversation about safety and responsibility while using technology.

Nothing can replace having open and frank conversations,” said Downey. “Truly listen to what your young person shares and share your own experiences. The moment the conversation becomes a do this, not that lecture, they will tune out. Talk about how you approach using social media, what you try to avoid and, most importantly, why. Having a conversation about how you reason through your own use of social media or other tech tools can spark more consideration on their part.

For more tips on cyber safety and media, it is recommended that parents and caregivers visit CommonSenseMedia.Org.