Considerations for Managing Your Child’s Digital Footprint

We’re all proud of our children. We love to share stories about the funny things they say, the sweet things they do, and the milestones they reach in their lives. But now that social media, blogging and vlogging are such a big part of everyday life, are we sharing too much about our kids? And to the wrong people?

Many times, a child’s digital footprint is created before they are even born. Ultrasound pictures, pregnancy updates, nursery decorating and more—it’s all information about a child that is shared without their knowledge or consent. Of course, it’s shared in a spirit of love and excitement, but the point remains that our kids’ future Internet safety may be at risk. The information that parents post about their children (and what those children eventually post about themselves) can have a lasting impact on a child’s life, long into the future.

It’s critical to teach kids from a young age about their digital footprint and how it can affect them (either positively or negatively) later on in life.

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What You Post Online Lives Forever — Share Carefully

A recent Children’s Commissioner’s report in the UK found that the average parent of a child under the age of thirteen shares 71 photos of them per year on social media sites.

Even the most innocent posts can have long-term effects and consequences on the mental and emotional health of your child, as well as your relationship with them. As your child grows, they begin to develop a unique identity and a sense of self. Privacy becomes increasingly important to them. If you over-share information about their habits, quirks, and embarrassing moments, they start to feel as if their sense of self doesn’t matter. Privacy slips away, and it takes confidence and individuality with it.

As a parent, you can model guidelines for digital wellbeing to your children by protecting their privacy online and sharing information carefully with only a small circle of trusted family and friends, and never in a way that would cause embarrassment or harm to your child.

Talk to your children and tell them that you respect their right to privacy, and they should feel empowered to protect it too. It’s critical that kids understand from an early age that what’s posted online stays online forever. Even if they delete a post, it can live on through screenshots, web archives, and re-posts on other sites.

Kids are getting smartphones at earlier ages than ever before and are using those devices to access content and platforms that are not intended for young users. You can’t stress enough to your children that they must be careful about what images they post, the kind of language they use, and the information they share. Teaching them the permanence of their digital footprint at an early age can help them make better choices throughout their entire online lives.

Social Media is Not the Only Problem

Connected devices are constantly collecting information about us. Whether it’s where we eat and what we buy (e.g. rewards programs), the kinds of videos we watch (viewing history), or any other activity we perform while connected to the Internet, companies are aggregating data about us like never before.

Even seemingly innocent items like Internet-connected “smart” toys and baby monitors can pose a privacy risk to even the youngest children because of the information they gather and the typically limited security measures they have in place.

Be careful about what connected devices you choose for your child and what you let them use. Buy traditional baby monitors instead of Wi-Fi enabled versions. Give your kids toys that don’t rely on an Internet or Bluetooth connection.

When your children are young, try to limit their toys to those that are specifically made for children versus phones and tablets. You can always gradually introduce devices with more capabilities over time, but it’s harder to take them away than to withhold them in the first place.

Be Smart About Passwords

Better online safety starts with better passwords and it’s important to develop these good habits early. In a study of the most commonly hacked passwords, over 23 million accounts used the password “123456.” Astonishing, right? If adults can’t be trusted to select passwords that protect their personal information, how can we expect our children to choose strong passwords?

There is a new data breach in the news nearly every day, it seems. It’s becoming commonplace for our personal information, passwords, and profiles to get stolen and used for sinister purposes. Too many people (adults and children alike) use common passwords like birthdays, addresses, pets, or middle names that a hacker can easily discover and hack.

Encourage your children to use good password habits (different passwords for each site, complex passwords, no common words or words/dates with personal connections) that will increase their Internet safety now and well into the future.

Use Parental Controls

As companies release better and more comprehensive parental controls for Internet devices, take the time to learn how they work and how to keep your kids from bypassing them. Parental controls aren’t perfect, but they can help protect your child’s digital wellbeing by making sure they are only using apps and content that are suitable and age appropriate.

Don’t forget about controls for digital voice assistants like Siri and Alexa, as well as video game consoles and other connected devices. Any device that connects to the Internet poses a potential risk to your child’s privacy and online safety. The best defense is a good offense.

Have Conversations Early and Often

It’s never too early to start thinking about your child’s digital footprint and how to protect it. Talk to your children about avoiding and reporting negative behaviors like cyberbullying and digital stalking. Remind them that anything they post will live on somewhere on the Internet, so they should think carefully before posting anything—no matter how mundane it seems at the time.

Above all, lead by example and show your kids what digital responsibility looks like. As your children get older, revisit the conversation as it pertains to their stage in life. Whether they thank you or not when they are adults, taking an active and interested role in their digital activities can only protect them from future regret.