In 2019, Harvard revoked the admission of a high school student named Kyle Kashuv, and the incident gained widespread attention. The university’s decision stemmed from the exposure of offensive comments made by Kyle in text messages and Google Docs, which included racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic remarks. The comments were troubling and indefensible, sparking a broader discussion about the challenges young people face navigating their online presence. This raises an important question: how can parents support their kids in understanding the impact of their actions on social media and help them become responsible digital citizens?

The story surrounding Kyle Kashuv touched on various political and divisive elements, but our focus here is on the lasting nature of kids’ digital footprints and the role parents play in guiding their children towards responsible online behavior.

The Comments That Stick Around

Kids often believe that their private conversations with friends will remain just that – private. However, the reality is that various online activities are recorded and stored indefinitely, even on platforms that emphasize privacy and disappearing messages like Snapchat, Skype, Discord, and WhatsApp. Screenshots can be taken of text messages and Snaps, leaving the content vulnerable to misuse. Speaking negatively about someone can lead to confrontations, engaging in sexting exposes kids to potential blackmail and extortion and extortion, and a chain of prejudiced texts can subject their entire reputations to intense public scrutiny – all through the simple act of sharing a screenshot.

Even seemingly innocuous tools like Google Docs can become problematic. While designed for collaboration and productivity, students have been known to misuse it for cyberbullying, creating digital “burn books” to target classmates they dislike. In the case of the student whose Harvard admission was revoked, much of the inappropriate content was drafted in Google Docs, stored in a study guide shared among multiple classmates. Anyone with access to the document can check its revision history to see past content, including deleted portions.

It’s easy to assume that our online activities vanish as soon as they scroll past the News Feed, but this is merely an illusion. Parents play a crucial role in helping their kids understand that their online actions are more lasting than they might think. Comments made today can come back to haunt them years later. Bark monitors not only Google Docs but a variety of online activities, helping parents guide their children through the digital landscape.

Kids Are Still Figuring It Out

Before passing judgment on the online conduct of teens and tweens, it’s essential to remember that kids are still on the journey to reaching adult-level maturity. Their prefrontal cortexes, responsible for decision-making and logical reasoning, are works in progress and will continue to develop into their 20s. Despite being labeled as “digital natives,” kids are not as equipped for the online world as we might believe. Navigating the Information Superhighway, their impulses can often override their judgment, leading to potential trouble.

Throughout adolescence, kids require consistent guidance, especially in the online realm, where a single comment can turn into a worldwide controversy overnight. If a child’s online activities reveal a pattern of concerning behavior, such as racism, parents should step in to address the issue. Maturing into a responsible adult takes time and effort, and until that point, parents should coach their children on the appropriate use of these powerful online tools – teaching them about the potential consequences when they are misused.