What would life be like if the parent quietly watched the child, just out of sight, throughout the course of their whole school day, through their extracurricular activities, and so forth? Talk at the dinner table could consist of the parent remarking point-by-point on what the child did right and wrong, redefining what it means to micromanage. Though it may not always seem so, the digital age offers parents quite a similar potential: if they so choose, they can, with little effort, view all of their child’s public digital footprint, probably containing some material which the child did not submit to the web with their parents in mind as the target audience. Just as the hypothetical real-life micromanagement scenario seems an environment which can totally stunt a child’s growth, rendering him forever dependent upon his parents’ guidance and opinions, so too can digital micromanagement stifle the developmental space of a child. If every comment made or link posted is scrutinized and brought to light by the parent, the child will have a harder time finding her own way, thereby being made unable to comfortably form a representative digital footprint in the first place.
Suppose instead that the parent watched the child just as much as in our Orwellian “Big Father” hypothetical, but addressed the child’s behavior in a different way: instead of making every action of the child nightly table-talk, the parent instead used the child’s behavior as a guide for his own parenting, seeing where the child may need help and focusing more effort on giving the child the necessary support and guidance in that area. Such guidance may not even require reference to the particular behavior which the parent witnessed – though, in some cases, direct reference may be the correct course of action. The same is possible with social networking and ORM: if a parent can resist the potential for micromanagement and instead use the increased availability of record of their child’s behavior to inform and tailor their own parenting style, they can help the child not only in terms of Online Reputation Management, but also in regards to the greater scheme of the child’s developmental path and maturation, a process which far transcends ORM.
Of course, as we alluded to in our last example, some behavior may merit direct discussion with the child, while some may merit a less direct approach. Part of this difference certainly falls upon parental discretion, but it is important to remember that ORM is as emergent a practice as the social media which necessitated its inception. This creates a funny sort of paradox: the child needs guidance from a parent regarding media with which the child is better-versed than the parent! The result is that the parents could probably do in most cases with guidance on social media just as much as their children, if only to be savvy enough to offer their children informed and practical guidance. There are several ways the parents could accomplish this: they could get involved with social networking themselves; they could conduct research into the various social media -- their cultures, nuances, and functionality; or they could themselves get savvy through the help of an ORM mentor.
The last of these choices would reap the twofold benefit of making the parent both social media savvy and ORM savvy, but the choice in how to approach solving the problem would fall upon the parents’ knowing how best they learn, from what position they can best be of aid to their child, and the like. The key, as we have seen through our exploration of the parent-child adventure, is knowing how to practice balance.