Posted in digital citizenship, digital parenting, parent child conversations, parents and technology

Choosing a Screen Name this Summer? 5 Tips for Families

Strange screen names seem to pop up in the summer more than any other time of the year.

The best screen names are boring. In a virtual world, where even a nuanced word association can invite unfortunate behavior, taking care when choosing these online names is critical. The easiest solution is to use a first name, nickname, or a different name, perhaps paired with numbers at the beginning or end. Many years ago I used 29Marti1607, a name that attracted little attention except once when someone asked me if my ancestors had lived in colonial Jamestown (settled in 1607).

Children experiment with edgy screen names as one way to look and feel cool, and as they get older, their choices often push limits, unintentionally drawing attention. A suggestive name in any number of categories can encourage the people who interact with your child — even people who are friends — to behave impulsively in the web world where adult supervision is minimal. It is way too easy for two-way communication to go awry.

A Few Screen Name Selection Tips

  1. Make the screen name boring with names or words and numbers.
  2. Avoid words that allude to sex and gender, and even descriptive words that may seem insignificant. “Cutekid” may seem innocuous and fun when said out loud, but when paired with words in a text message or chat, the screen name can draw attention. One with even more direct allusion– “hotpants,” for instance — will be even more suggestive to others.
  3. Avoid words that unintentionally convey personal information — the name of a sport, sports team, or a favorite vacation spot. These screen names let a person chat with your child on a subject that your child loves.
  4. To maintain privacy, avoid screen names that give away a child’s (or your) location — names of towns, cities, parks, monuments, schools, and other locations. See my post, Protecting Personal Privacy, The Jigsaw Puzzle Metaphor.
  5. Avoid words of intense emotion, violence as well as names of weapons — hate, beat-up, attack, gun, bomb, blow-up, knife, etc. Recently I heard of a child whose screen name, “BeatYouUp24,” was not a good choice.

Screen names have power. Help your child make safe and sensible choices.

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