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.