Teenagers, God bless them, have the impulse control of slightly dim goats. That’s why juvenile records are sealed–no one needs to know you got caught tagging boxcars when you were 15 and going through an Eminem phase. But the existence of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and their ilk means today’s teens are going to have a tougher time scrubbing their reputations. And even Google chairman Eric Schmidt is willing to admit it’s pretty much a “privacy nightmare.”
Reuters sat down with Mr. Schmidt in the wake of the Petraeus scandal (which has claimed the reputations of God knows how many grown-ass adults at this point) to chat about online privacy and security. He pointed out that, once upon a time, it was easier for teens to get past any mistakes made. Now, he said, “It’s going to follow you for the rest of your life.” Consequently, parents would be advised to go on the offensive:
“I’d argue for those of you with teenagers or preteens, you should probably have the online talk before you even have the sex talk with your kid. Because that’s the kind of damage they can do to themselves over their entire life, unknowingly.”
Mr. Schmidt’s point is well taken–future employers likely don’t give a damn about how you lost your virginity, but a drunken YouTube video involving bottle rockets and mailboxes is likely to be more problematic.
That said, you wait until they’re actually teenagers for either one of those talks, you’re probably trying to shut the barn door after the horse has already gotten out.