Students warned of ‘digital tattoos’ that can ruin futures

Abusive or careless social media postings by teens can turn into harmful “digital tattoos,” warn local school officials.

An inappropriate online posting — especially an abusive one — can be a self-mutilation of an otherwise pristine digital bio that could haunt students through adulthood.

To combat this growing dilemma, recent months have seen school officials in Butler and Warren counties holding more public seminars for school parents and students to help them understand how a rash and careless social media history could destroy their chances when applying to schools, jobs, military service or organization memberships.

Like the nearly permanent ink of skin tattoos, misuse of social media can last a lifetime and may cost lost opportunities, says local social media expert and author Stephen Smith, who is also seeing and participating in a sharp upswing in school-sponsored seminars to instruct and warn school parents and their children.

Our youth are confronting digital pitfalls — sexting, threats of violence at schools, racist posts and bullying — never imagined by their parents, warns Smith.

“No other generation in our history has had to deal with such evolution of technology and its impact on our private lives,” said Smith, a former teacher and author of “Social Media: Your Child’s Digital Tattoo: Understanding & Managing Your Child’s Digital Footprint.”

“Many colleges look at (a student’s) social media behavior before accepting them to school. Seventy percent of businesses review social media as well. Four letter words, inappropriate pictures and online mistreatment of others will keep them from finding success,” said Smith.

"Although most us will never need to deal with such scenarios, our children must know that such devices among unethical individuals can place obstacles to our education, careers and relationships," said Smith, whose company — A Wired Family — includes a website of timely tips for school parents and youths.

Pam Pratt, spokeswoman for Butler County’s Edgewood Schools, said the district is among those that regularly offer school families tips on surviving the pitfalls of social media.

“Edgewood make efforts to educate our students about the down side and dangers of social media. Through our focus on … character initiatives, we hope to build a foundation within our students that will help to eliminate the potential negative impact of social media,” said Pratt.

The periodic and high-profile examples of social media abuse — locally and nationally — “become teachable moments for our students,” said Pratt.

Mason Schools in Warren County recently had its own teachable moment earlier this month, when a school mother allegedly threatened a student on social media.

Leanne Fischer was originally charged with menacing after Mason police said she threatened a student at Western Row Elementary via a video posted on Instagram.

Fischer contends her son was being bullied by a student at school.

Mason Schools recently held a seminar at its high school for parents interested in learning strategies to monitor and teach their children how to survive increasingly, hyper-connected digital age.

In nearby Kings Schools, district officials provide practical strategies on their website to help parents and in February will conduct an event entitled “Social Media: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly” that will include high school students talking about their social media experiences.

In Butler County, Hamilton Schools work with Cincinnati Bell — a regional internet provider that holds assemblies for students on avoiding and surviving online abuse.


Smith’s company is conducting a regional survey through April 2019 of 10,000 students on how they interact in the digital world.

Preliminary findings, said Smith, are already eye-opening.

About 46 percent of teens responding to his survey think there is a cyber bully or bullying issue at their school. And about 56 percent of girls and 37 percent of boys locally say they have been bullied.

In 2016 Madison Schools in Butler County was the site of a student shooting that left three classmates wounded. Though there was no subsequent evidence of social media bullying connected to the shooting, the incident of violence has the school system at the forefront locally in exploring new ways to protect its schools, including a plan to allow some trained staffers access to firearms.

Later this month the school district will host a “Bully Symposium” for students, parents and community residents on how to combat bullying, including abuse and threats via social media.

Lisa Tuttle-Huff, first-year superintendent of Madison Schools, said the event is needed.

“Our children are spending more time online than ever before. There are great learning experiences in the digital world; however, our students must learn to navigate the internet properly and use it in a positive manner,” said Tuttle-Huff.

“High school students should not forget that their digital footprint may follow them into adulthood and can hinder future job opportunities if employers see their online use as not conducive to the professional world. Parents and teachers must reinforce that a student’s digital communication should be positive,” she said, adding “there can be real life impacts to negative social media posts.”

Talawanda Schools have been conducting information outreach programs for students and parents for years but have recently added a non-digital twist to combating bullying.

Dubbed “Project Civility,” the Oxford-based school system distributes small tokens to students and staffers with the instruction to give a token to anyone they see doing a random act of kindness.

“The idea is not to keep the token but to keep passing them on,” said Holli Morrish, spokeswoman for Talawanda Schools.

“It’s a conversation starter and it helps and allows the students to take some responsibility for creating the kind of culture they want in their high school,” said Morrish.

Mason Schools parent Christina Keim attended the recent digital safety event at Mason High School and said she appreciates school officials taking the lead on helping both students and their parents better handle the downsides of the digital world.

But there is no single solution, she said.

“My takeaway was that we are all in this together — parents, students, schools, community,” said Keim. “No one person or group has all the answers or guidelines as social media continues to evolve.”

The meeting, however, quelled any misconceptions she may have held about being alone in combating the growing frequency of social media abuse.

“I left the meeting comforted that other parents are facing the same challenges such teens spending too much time on social media, worries about what they might see and what is appropriate to post,” she said. “I am thrilled that Mason Schools are taking a proactive approach to social media use by involving families.”

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