Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Your "Permanent Record" in a Digital World

When we were growing up, threats to put something on our "permanent record" put fear into our hearts. It meant that we carried our past actions with us as we moved forward through the K-12 system. It meant no "fresh starts" and living with long term consequences of short term actions. Once we moved to college, we could breathe a sigh of relief. The "permanenet records" in life after school were limited to bad references from employers, credit histories and divorces. But that was then. This is now. Our kids can never start fresh. Their permanent records are really permanent. My line "what you post online stays online...forever" is often quoted. Old archival sites aren't the issue. The Facebooks, YouTubes and Twitters of the world are. Your posts are reposted, saved, printed and shared. When you move away, the new school students know what the former school students thought about you. The bullying can move with you. Your old fat pics, embarassing pics, boyfreind/girlfriend and what-were-you-thinking pics move too. Lies, exposed secrets, rumors, profiling, friends, enemies...they transfer too. You can't escape your past. Our kids can never reinvent themselves over the summer. They can never ditch the geeky period and become popular in a new school. You can never pretend that you were born with that "new" nose. We grow up online, with all our warts, lapsed judgment and experimental hair colors. It's like having someone capture a pic of you from the 80s and showing them to your future mother-in-law or even your kids. And it's not only things that others do to them. It's what they do to themselves! When I talk to teens about their online reputations, they cannot fathom the permanence. Brain specialists tell us that teens' brains are not sufficiently matured to appreciate consequences until they are in their early 20s. (I keep reminding my mom that my brain wasn't sufficiently mature when I was in my teens, instead of my doing stupid things. She still hasn't bought it.:-)) They don't comprehend the long term consequences of doing stupid things (whoops, I mean "things that an immature brain may cause you to do"). They sext, post far too much personal information and do things that should never be captured in their permanent record. School administrators tell me that the "permnent record" of our youth is no longer a "permanent record" as we knew it or as we feared it. That's good. But with social media and unlimited data storage and sharing, the new "permanent record" is far more permanent and far-further-reaching. No more fresh starts. No more reinventing our pasts. No more escapaing our mistakes, poor judgments or past romances. No more forgiveness. How sad.