One of the big worries parents have with their kids online is the complete lack of supervision when it comes to material posted about them. The Internet is such a big place – how can we (and they) keep on top of pictures in which they are tagged? How can we know if someone makes a comment about them or refers to them on a website?

The easiest solution is to set up a Google Alert with your child’s name. This is an easy enough thing to do – you can literally Google “Google Alert” (or click on the above link) and follow the simple steps to filling in the details. You will need to set up a gmail email account if you don’t already have one, but you can set that to automatically forward any emails received to your active email address. You can create as many alerts as you like.

Use the name or nickname your child uses with their friends. Setting up an alert for Isabella Persephone Smith won’t be terrible effective if everyone knows her as Bella Smith. Google will send you emails with links to websites where your child’s name comes up.  Place the whole name in quotations (“Bella Smith”) so that you don’t get emails every time someone on the Internet uses the word “Smith,” which would be both annoying and ineffective.

Now some careful readers will note that this scheme will really only work for people with uncommon names. A Google Alert for “John Smith” or “David Cohen” or “Sanjay Gupta” or “Zhi Chen” would be utterly pointless. In those cases, you can finetune the alert by throwing in other particular search terms, such as the name of their school or the town in which they live.  You can ask that the alerts be delivered as they occur or collected and sent once a day (assuming anything comes up).

Use a minus sign (“-“) in front of any terms you want to exclude from the results (example: London -Ontario). You can also use a plus sign (“+”) in front of a term that you want matched as precisely as you type it, excluding spelling variations and synonyms (example: +Alissa to exclude searches for Alyssa or Elisa or Alicia, etc.).

You can also use “site:”  if you are particularly interested in a specific site.

“Alissa Sklar” site:facebook.com will return all of the publicly accessible mentions of my name on Facebook. Just typing in “Alissa Sklar” facebook will return all links that use both my name and the word facebook. It seems like a small distinction, but it can help weed out unnecessary results.

What do you do if anything unpleasant comes up? That depends on who sent it and where it was posted. You can generally request that tags be removed from pictures quite easily, and you can choose your method of response to any unpleasant postings. The Google Alert means you and your child can respond quickly, hopefully before anything gets spread too far. Kids already dealing with cyberbullying will need to be particularly vigilant, but for most kids, most of the time, this kind of knowledge is simply about developing an awareness of one’s digital footprint.

And that’s knowledge we all need, no matter how old we are.

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