Using social networks such as Facebook and Instagram, commenting on websites, posting photos and sharing links means over the years we’re gradually build up an online record of our lives.

Children use social networks from an early age, so their digital footprint starts earlier. By the time they reach adulthood they’ll have a substantial record of photos, comments, posts and interactions with others, things which form their ‘online reputation’. 

[Read more: BT Parental Controls - the free and easy way to stay safe online]

An online reputation is made up of things children post themselves and what other people post about them. This digital record can be hard to erase, yet it can impact tremendously on a child’s future. Sexting, sharing personal photographs, and being the perpetrator or victim of cyberbullying can affect relationships with family and friends, education, employment and even their credit score.

What online reputation does your child have?

Internet Matters a not for profit e-safety organisation supported by BT has a wealth of free advice for parents about online reputation and recommends taking the following steps to find out more about your child’s reputation.

  • Search for your child online using search engines like Google and Bing. Try searching for their whole name and nickname along home location. Search Google images to see if they are in any photos.
  • If you find anything, click through and see whether there are any comments and if private information like address or school is revealed.
  •  If your child is on a social network such as Facebook, search for their profile. If it’s private, join and ask to be their friend, or get another trusted adult to do it.  Remember some children may have more than one profile.

The above should give you a picture of your child’s online reputation. If there’s anything you are unhappy about, talk to your child about it and take action.

Online reputation: What children can do

It’s really important to talk to your children so they understand what their online reputation is and what they can do to make sure it’s positive.

1. The internet isn’t private

Explain to your child how easy and quickly things can spread online. Even if a message is sent in confidence, it can be shared or screenshotted, even if your child deletes it. Children should never post things online which they don’t want other people to see.

Help them activate privacy settings on social networks. Find out more

2. Don’t share passwords

Show your child how to create a strong password and remind them that they should never share it – even with friends.

3.  Treat people with respect

The ability to share things with a large audience makes it tempting to post things people probably wouldn’t dream of saying in person. Remind your child to treat people as they’d like to be treated - if they wouldn’t say something to someone’s face, they shouldn’t post it online.

4. Watch tone

Writing something on a forum or a Facebook page is very different to saying it in person. Without tone of voice or a facial expression, there’s often no way of knowing if something online was said seriously or in jest, which is how even the most innocuous comments can be misconstrued to cause arguments.

5. Build a positive reputation

Encourage your child to do things that can help build a positive presence – such as writing a blog about something they enjoy.

[Read more: What is sharenting? Are you sharing too much about your child online]

Online reputation: What parents can do

1. Be a role model

Parents need to set an example to children in how they use social media. Make sure you use social media wisely, think about what you post and let your child know you would never post anything you don’t want them to see.

2. Check their online reputation

Using the methods described above, regularly check the information about your child that’s online.

3. Remove incorrect information

If you discover inaccurate information about your child, ask the poster to take it down. If they refuse, contact the site administrator.

4. Delete old accounts

There are many social networks out there and your child may swap from one to another. If they do this make sure you delete or deactivate old accounts, so they are no longer searchable online.

For a comprehensive, easy to use resource of up-to-date information for keeping your child safe online, check out Internet Matters.