Be careful or you can wipe out your future in 140 characters or less

Regrets01Flowing tears and trembling hands marked the scene as 17 -year-old Paris Brown faced the music over tweets she had posted two to three years earlier. Brown was selected as the UK's first "youth crime commissioner" at the beginning of April 2013, but before she could enjoy it, her digital bloopers came back to haunt her. Now her world has fallen apart. After community outcry, she resigned from the job a week later.

As teens, we use social media as emotional outlets to express ourselves. And the culture we live in these days totally revolves around technology. So, should a couple of ranting tweets mess up our chances of getting a job? If we make a flip comment that we didn't really intend to offend someone, should we be penalized?

Apparently, we are. Paris got a lesson that more teens will learn the hard way: There can be harsh consequences for disrespectful or degrading comments you post online-even at our young ages. Some of the things that teens-and girls like Paris-do in their lives may make them feel good at that moment but they come to regret them later down the line when it harms their reputation and destroys their confidence.

Raychelle Lohmann, author of "The Anger Workbook for Teens," says that most teens don't think about the long­ term consequences of just one click of a computer mouse. "They don't realize their actions create a digital footprint," Lohmann says.

Paris' old tweets, which included derogatory remarks toward those of other races and sexual orientations and the repeated use of profanity, cost her a position where she would have made £15,000 (approximately $24,220) a year.

As teens, we all know how hard it is for us to find jobs. Now employers are using what we put on Facebook and Twitter against us.That makes it more important to think before we act when it comes to putting emotional comments on our pages or feeds. Even if the post was made years ago it can follow you into adulthood and hurt you.

Words are bad enough, but can you imagine being that girl who has to transfer schools because of sending a part of her body to another classmate or "friend" through text and pretty soon all of her classmates had seen it?

Most teens who sext do it because they are in a relationship and want to experiment with new things, others are pressured into it or trust the individual they're sending the picture to, Lohmann says. Statistics from a report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, indicate 20 percent of 16-year-olds and 30 percent of 17-year-olds have received "sexts."

Girls don't always realize that this act of sexting is not ajoke-it can hurt us in more ways than one. Like social media, everyone can find it, and it never just disappears into thin air.

How would you like a college admis­ sions officer to Google you and find one of these pictures? This could ruin your chance to be admitted. And employers don't want this type of behavior associated with them.

So, your whole life can be altered because of a bad decision you made as a teen. Within a millisecond, our images can self-destruct from all the gossip, rumors and opinions from others who are basically strangers. It may not seem fair to have this stress placed on us by technology that wasn't out there when our parents were growing up, but we have to deal with it and take control. It's our responsibility to protect our image now and long-term.

I know we're just teens, but we need to think ahead because what's ahead is likely to be more important than now.


Clarissa Cowley, a senior at King College Prep in Chicago, and plans to attend Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in the fall. She is a contributor to Columbia Links, a journalism skills and leadership program for Chicago teens and teachers.

Columbia Links is a high school journalism and news literacy reporting academy based at Columbia College Chicago.