How to transition from a teenage social media presence
to a deliberately grownup, professional, public one


THIS IS NOT A LEGAL DOCUMENT. This information is not written by a lawyer, a paralegal, or anyone associated in any way with a court, legal or government office.

For many young people now, there is a moment where they realize that their online activities, collectively, need to present a person that is worthy of being accepted into a particular university, worthy of employment, worthy of renting an apartment to, etc. But as they’ve grown up with social media, they probably have a vast virtual trail of photos and status updates that undermine that need. 

What should you do when someone typing in your name and hometown into Google will generate links to photos and online rants that will turn off universities, potential employers, potential landlords - even potential friends?

Does it mean you have to be serious at all times online and never have fun again?


Do you have to completely delete your online activities from your youth and start over?

It depends…

You will hear people say that whatever you post online is FOREVER, and that’s true, to a degree. But not always - you find this out when you desperately need an old version of a document or a video that you never downloaded to your computer, and it’s absolutely no where to be found online, not even via

A better way to think about it: everything you have that has your name attached to it will probably always be online or on someone's computer somewhere. Before you panic at that thought, also realize that, the more information you have online, the more specific information is hard to find, and also realize that most people aren’t going to go looking for incriminating information about you, or be able to find such, unless you have made that information easy to find/access. You may not be able to scrub photos of yourself and other information entirely from the Internet, but you can make them MUCH harder to find.

Perhaps you passed notes in school, and your notes were for friends ONLY, and one day, a note was taken by a teacher or found by someone that isn't your friend - remember that humiliation? Remember that horror? That note was a publication, whether you realized it or not, and it became fair game the moment it was found by someone else. Courts take publications VERY seriously, even personal ones. Young people's diaries that they never intended to share with anyone have been used in court against them - because the court can view diaries as publications.

You're goal in your transition online from “I’m a young person having fun and who cares what anyone thinks about me?!” to “I’m worthy of acceptance to the university of my dreams/of being hired by the employer of my dreams/of getting this apartment to rent” is to make sure anything online that would reflect poorly on you as a potential employee, current employee, renter, event attendee, volunteer, etc., is hidden from or extremely hard to find by potential and current employers, co-workers, landlords, etc. Your goal in this transition is for a search of your name and city into Google or Bing or any search engine to generate information that paints you as a nice, competent person worthy of being accepted at a particular university, being hired by a company, etc., and for information that would counter that either to be completely hidden, or too hard to find because it’s buried under a sea of great info.

Start with your profile on LinkedIn. That’s your public résumé. Your LinkedIn profile should be a university or employer’s first stop online in getting to know you. It should list all of the jobs you’ve had (at least those that you are proud of), your volunteering activities (particularly your *accomplishments*), your successfully-completed degrees and certificates, and your club and association memberships. Make your LinkedIn profile public, and make sure it is detailed.

Next, you will need to change all of your current privacy settings on all social media channels you use - Facebook, Twitter, GooglePlus, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, and on and on. You may need to change your name on these profiles to a nickname, or a slight misspelling of your first and/or last name. You may need to create new media profiles for potential employers, universities, etc. (more about that later). 


For Twitter, depending on what you have shared via such to date, you may want to change your Twitter profile such that your real name is not used. If your Twitter account is full of messages that would turn off a potential employer or university, change it so that you use a nickname, or just your first name with another word (Jayne Fabulous). This will make it much more difficult to find the things you have shared on Twitter using a search of your actual, full name. You may need to delete your Twitter account entirely and start over, depending on what you have shared via such. No matter what kind of Twitter account you have, you should NEVER use Twitter to ever say anything negative about your employer. If you want to use Twitter in a fully public way, where a search of your name and city WOULD bring up your tweets, you can create a second account with your real name (Twitter allows you to have multiple Twitter accounts, but you need a unique email address to be associated with each). Also, be careful with Twitter lists; if you maintain a public list called "women I think are hot," or "politics I like," that could be a turn-off to employers - make private those lists that reflect your politics or personal dating habits.


First, check your privacy settings - make sure all posts, including photos, can be seen by Facebook friends ONLY, by default. Make sure no one can tag you in a photo unless you approve it first.

Then, go to the page where all of your friends are listed, and put every single person on at least one “list” - a list that you create (do NOT use Facebook’s default lists, like “close friends”):
  • Put all of your friends that you have long known and know all the skeletons in your closet on a private list - call it “true friends" or “bestie friends", whatever. Put people on that list that are people that respect and care about you no matter what you’ve said or done in the past, and have participated in or witnessed your shenanigans. People that wouldn’t flinch over a photo of you dancing on a bar - and also wouldn’t share it.
  • Then create another list called “respectable folks,” and put anyone with whom you work, or want to work, and adults in your life - teachers, friends of your parents that you have friended on Facebook, parents of your friends, etc. - on that list. Put friends that would NOT appreciate a photo of you dancing on a bar on this list as well.
  • Create another list called “family,” for people you have as a friend on Facebook that are family - and these can be people that are on the aforementioned lists as well.
  • You can do another list called “neighbors,” for people that are in your immediate geographic area - and these can be people that are on the aforementioned lists as well.
  • Do another list that you put all of these people on and call it "everyone."
You can create other lists as well, as needed. It will take a LONG time to create these lists and make sure every person you have a Facebook friend is on at least one of these lists. And every time you add a friend, you have to put them on at least one of these lists. But it will be worth it, because it will allow you to decide who is going to see what about you online. Every time you post to Facebook, you need to think about who should see that post - political comments, comments about religion, comments about how you are spending the weekend, photos of you having fun, and all other personal activities should be sent to the "friends" list, but perhaps that’s it - no one else. Comments that you wouldn't mind any of your family or neighbors or other adults in your life seeing - an announcement about your LinkedIn profile, a job you've just been offered, etc., you could send to your “everyone” list. You can exclude people, or entire lists, from seeing a post as well. Remember that anything you make “public” on Facebook can be found and seen by absolute anyone, so use that setting with GREAT care.

Is your Facebook page packed with so many status updates and photos that are already public, or already available to hundreds of Facebook friends, such that it would take weeks to go through them all and change their settings so that no potential employer could see them? Then you have two choices:
  • delete the account and start over with an entirely new one, and be much more careful about what you post, or,
  • change the name on that account to something that is no longer your real name, take off all “relationships” you have inputted into Facebook, schools attended, jobs held, and all other identifying information under “about”, and create an entirely new Facebook account with your real name, all schools attended, all jobs held, etc.
Do not put your birthday on Facebook! You can put references to your birthday in your status update, or in comments, but never the line where Facebook asks for your birthday; instead, put in a fake birthday, like Christmas, or Halloween, and make this information private. Facebook sells all information you input into your profile, and your birthday is too precious to make so easily accessible!

You can either re-invite all of your Facebook friends from your old account to the new account (be sure you tell them what you’ve done - otherwise, they won’t respond, thinking a spammer has duped your account), or, you can keep all your close friends on that first account, and ask just neighbors, professional colleagues, and anyone that shouldn’t be privy to your political rants, photos of you dancing on a bar, etc., to be on your new account (and delete them as friends from your old account). With two Facebook accounts, you are in violation of Facebook’s Terms of Service, and if you get caught, the company will force you to delete one of them - and if you have the exact same friends on both accounts, use the exact same name, have your hometown the same, and try to use the same email to be associated with both, you WILL be caught.


If you use your real name anywhere on a blog, it will be findable on Google, Bing, or any other search engine if someone looks for you based on your real name. If you don't want it to be associated with your real name, do not use your real name anywhere on the blog, including your account set up, and if your blog is your own (and not an employer's), do NOT use your workplace email address.

GooglePlus, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.

I won’t go into details on how to change your privacy settings and your name use on GooglePlus, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. - it would take me too long. But you can adapt the aforementioned advice for all of those accounts.

And then?

Once you do all the aforementioned, wait three weeks, and then do searches on Google and Bing of your name and your city. What do you see? Have a colleague who is NOT your friend on Facebook to login to their Facebook account with you sitting by their side, and have them look at your profile - what do you see? That will tell you what else you need to do to hide inappropriate material from potential employers, the university you want to attend, etc.

What should you post publicly?

Start thinking about what kind of image of yourself you want to be public, that could be seen by anyone. Good things to post publicly on Facebook and other social media, that reflect well on you:
  • Environmental, community and humanitarian causes you care about, and why
  • Positive experiences you have had volunteering, working with others in any capacity, etc.
  • Challenges you are facing in your studies and how you are addressing those challenges
  • Questions you have about what to study for your dream career
  • An act of kindness you witnessed
  • A web site you have found valuable for managing your finances, for evaluating universities, for learning about a job, etc.
  • Non-insulting observations about a sports event or world event
  • Reflections on a public event you attended that wouldn't "turn off" a potential employer you really, really want to work for (even saying you went to a circus could turn off an animal lover who happens to be the hiring manager where you have applied for a job)
  • Information and photos about a vacation after you are back home
  • Things you like about your current workplace or school
Things you should post only for family and good friends (things you shouldn't post publicly, associated with your full name, and things that employers or potential employers should NOT see in association with your name):
  • Thoughts about religion
  • Opinions about politics
  • Updates about your health
  • Updates about vacations or trips
  • Memes
  • Jokes
  • Anything of a sexual nature
  • Your upcoming social plans ("I'm going to the pub tonight!") or previous social activities ("Here I am dressed as She Hulk at ComicCon!")
Things you should never post online if you are at all worried about turning off a potential employer, a university considering you for acceptance, etc.:
  • insults of a people that practice a particular religion, an ethnic group, people from a particular region or country, etc.
  • photos or videos that could be harmful to you or to anyone else in the photos because they show an activity or behavior that could be seen as inappropriate, harmful or provocative to others
  • unverified information that could be harmful to anyone
  • thoughts that imply your culture or your religion is better than everyone else's
  • complaints that name neighbors, co-workers, students attending your school, or other people's children
YMMV: your mileage may vary. Some employers aren't going to care that you take lots of vacations or complain frequently about your health. Others may dismiss your application because of a joke you posted online that you think is hilarious but they find insulting or demeaning - and that may be fine with you, because of your strongly held opinion on the matter. The point of all of this advice is that, in making this transition from "anything goes!" to "I need to be more careful online!", you are realizing that online activities are publishing. By all means, show personality via your online activities. And maybe it's a good thing if someone you thought you wanted to work for doesn't like your sense of humor online - because they wouldn't like your sense of humor offline either, and you probably wouldn't be happy working there as a result.

Also see this blog, Why You SHOULD Separate Your Personal Life & Professional Life Online

Also see

© 2016 by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved. No part of this material can be reproduced in print or in electronic form without express written permission by Jayne Cravens.


Book Recommendations
If you cannot afford to buy a book below that you want, most will be available, for free, at your local public library.

What Are My Rights?: Q&A About Teens and the Law (Revised and Updated Third Edition)

The Teen's Ultimate Guide to Making Money When You Can't Get a Job: 199 Ideas for Earning Cash on Your Own Terms

Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life

For Teenagers Living With a Parent Who Abuses Alcohol/Drugs

The Self-Esteem Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Build Confidence and Achieve Your Goals (Instant Help Book for Teens)

Paying for College Without Going Broke, 2015 Edition (College Admissions Guides)

Any activity incurs risk. The author assumes no responsibility for the use of information contained within this document.