The New Jersey Star-Ledger this week published a guest article by Leigh Ann Errico, founder of Wear the Cape and the kidkind foundation. Her piece outlines the new challenges young people face growing up and pursuing their dreams in an everything-online world. Read it on the Star-Ledger‘s website here or below!
Digital footprints can leave permanent scars for young people: Opinion
In this file photo, parents listen to a seminar conducted by Connecticut State Police Sgt. Jim Smith of the state police cyber crimes unit in Windsor Locks, Conn. Teenagers’ increasingly common habit of distributing nude self-portraits electronically — often called “sexting” if it’s done by cell phone — has parents and school administrators worried. And some prosecutors have begun charging teens who send and receive such images with child pornography and other serious felonies. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, file)
By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
on January 09, 2015 at 12:00 PM, updated January 09, 2015 at 12:04 PM
By Leigh Ann Errico
A cautionary tale that resembles a nightmare—that’s what the 2014 Sayreville War Memorial High School football team will pass down through generations. For alleged hazing, bullying and sexual assault, the team was forced to forfeit its football season. One student linked to the investigation even lost his scholarship offer from Penn State’s football program. He, no doubt, would take it all back, if he could.
The new year offers a blank slate, but thanks to our frenemy the Internet, some choices of years past are recorded and can bring consequences, again and again. It used to be that if someone had a lapse of judgment growing up, more often than not they could sweep the mistake under the rug and, with time, it would slowly fade away. What young people do today, however, can come back and haunt them. According to a sheriff’s office spokeswoman cited in the New York Times, releasing a minor’s name is the department’s standard practice for a juvenile “charged with a felony or three or more misdemeanors.” Once released, a quick Google search could bring up the name on dozens of sites many years later.
Teens, tweens and ages sandwiching them on each end also often fail to consider that what they type, snap or film and post, send or share could greatly impact their lives. Sex video scandals, for example, are rocking schools across the country. Showing off to the kid in math class or teammates in the locker room, minors are using their cell phones to record sexual acts, usually without both participants’ knowledge. Not only is this beyond-bad judgment inviting charges of unlawful filming, but adolescents themselves are facing child pornography charges. And, most tragic, young victims of this foul crime are being pushed into suicidal mires. As uncomfortable as it may be, share stories like these with teens as a warning. Making the wheels turn in those brains that lack fully-developed frontal lobes just might prevent tragedy.
As a human resources professional, I so often encounter people who think they have a job offer in the bag, but are soon wildly disappointed. These days, a formal background check is just the beginning. For employers, due diligence includes checking social media accounts and doing Google searches on candidates before formal offers are extended.
Because the Internet has been around to record the mistakes of their youth in permanent, digital marker, presenting a clean slate will be even more difficult for millennials and their successors — just ask the team captains of the Sayreville football team in 10 years.
As kids head back to school for second semester, help them prepare for the new jungle out there. Here’s what they need to understand from a young age:
Every day, you choose how to live your life—not only how you conduct yourself as a human being, but also how you treat other people (choose kind). Think of yourself as a brand. You build value in your brand with upstanding behavior. Living a life of good character will pay off in endless ways.
Anything you or others post of you online will be in the public domain and will likely be out there for all to see forever. Think before you press send.
Beware of being filmed unknowingly. Even if you think you are in a setting that is private, don’t assume and be cautious.
There are consequences and penalties for demonstrating questionable character as you age and strive to reach your goals. Don’t let a lapse in judgment get in the way of your hopes and dreams.
Select your friends carefully. If it feels wrong in your gut, it probably is. Channel that good sense of direction and avoid following others down the wrong path. Remember:
Your digital footsteps, in particular, are tracked nearly everywhere you go.
All being said, tell young people that if something should happen to them that is humiliating, there are options for ushering in tomorrow, a new day. With the help of parents, friends and counselors, there is always a path toward healing.
In the past, learning by trial and error was “the hard way,” but today it’s even harder as rumors and incriminating photos spread like wildfire throughout peer groups over the Internet. It is our job to teach the younger generation online survival skills now to minimize the obstacles they encounter as they grow up and pursue their dreams.
Leigh Ann Errico is a certified Leadership Coach and the founder and CEO of Wear the Cape and the kidkind foundation (www.wearthecapekids.com).