Have you tried talking to your teen about how the Web is permanent and how the things they post online could come back to haunt them in the future? Do you get a blank look or a standard "Yes, Mom" response that you know means your teen hasn't taken what you've said seriously?
Please, keep at it. Kids need to learn at an early age that the Internet has become the world's electronic archive, and once photos are posted online, they can persist there forever. Your teen daughter may not care today that a friend posted a photo of her on Facebook in a provocative pose, but she will likely care later if that photo pops up in a Google search conducted by a future college recruiter or prospective employer.
Sometimes, tasteless photos have even been used by the justice system to demonstrate a defendant's character or state of mind. These are extreme examples to be sure -- most teens aren't involved in crimes -- but they help demonstrate how online photos have had a real-life impact for shortsighted kids:
Criminal prosecutors have recently begun searching for evidence on social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook that enables them to pursue harsher sentencing against people they've prosecuted. In several cases, prosecutors have found incriminating photos of defendants in DUI cases -- many of which had resulted in serious injury and/or death -- to secure longer prison sentences.
Take the case of 20-year old Joshua Lipton. While awaiting sentencing in a drunk-driving case where a woman was seriously injured, prosecutors obtained pictures posted on Facebook of Joshua drinking and wearing a jailbird costume for Halloween -- just two weeks after his accident. Prosecutors used these pictures as evidence that Joshua was unremorseful for his actions. The result: a prison sentence of two years.
Talk to your kids about stories like these, and discuss their reactions. It's a good bet that if you share other stories as you hear about them, reality will begin to sink in: Once you post something, it exists forever. Even if you try to delete it, someone else may have already copied it and posted it elsewhere. The Internet is forever. Think before you post.
Take a look at this video from the Ad Council - Think Before You Post Online: