My 8 year old daughter recently looked at me after a took a photo of her and said, “You’re not going to put that on Facebook are you?”
The comment shocked me a little. It symbolized the rather sudden shift from a young child that has little or no awareness or concern about what is published/shared about them, to a not-so-young child that is all of a sudden very aware and concerned.
It got me thinking. As an 8 year old she is a member of the very first generation to have their whole lives represented online. She was born a short time after Facebook and a short time before the iPhone – right at the beginning of the social media revolution. She will be able to look back when she’s older and see photos and updates of her whole life as part of our family. Hopefully this is mostly a positive thing for her, but I’m becoming more and more aware that the things we post as parents could have unthought of implications for our children down the track.
As an educator, I have always spoken to children and teenagers about what they put online about themselves as if they will be building their ‘footprint’ or reputation from a blank slate. But for my daughter and her generation, by the time they start fully using the internet for themselves, their digital footprint will already be detailed.
Let me explain. Everyone has a digital footprint, or ‘online record’ of some sort. It’s almost impossible to avoid these days. For many of us, particularly those under 30, our online identities are a huge part of our lives, and tell others a lot about us. Much of our online identity is hosted on social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ etc. We do a lot of our shopping online. We search for cars or real estate. We may also have a blog, or at least subscribe to one, be members of a club, or sign up to get the newspaper. Whatever it is, our digital record shows an awful lot about us (the video below demonstrates this really well). As adults, we have almost full control over what we publicly put online about ourselves (if we choose to keep aware and informed). But what about our kids? They are often featuring heavily in our online posts and conversations, and often have absolutely no say in the matter.
Think about it, these days by the time the average child has learnt to talk, their digital footprint is well developed. It usually begins about 12 weeks after they are conceived with a Facebook post announcing you are expecting. The first photo of them posted online often happens before they are even born: a still from one of the ultrasounds. Then the world sees their birth, and just about every other detail of them as they grow in to toddlers.
By the time our children are old enough to know what is going on, their digital footprint is detailed. And the quality, safety and appropriateness of that footprint is entirely dependent on the parents they were gifted with.
We, the parents, are the first and last generation in history that has had full control over our digital footprint from its very first days. Lucky us!
So what can we do for our children, who haven’t had that good fortune. And what’s the big deal anyway? There are 2 main issues to keep in mind:
1. Safety: its commonly thought that its not safe to post more than 3 pieces of information about your children in the one spot (or even yourself, as that’s all that people with bad intents need to track you down or even ‘steal’ your identity). Think: full name, date of birth (which may be from birth photos or pictures relating to celebrating their birthday each year), school (any shots with school uniform included will provide this), general locations (particularly holiday spots), sports teams, other children in their sports teams etc etc. If you do post pictures of your children, then its a great idea to remove personally identifying information such as their full names and birth dates. Untag them in pictures. Your friends know who they are anyway. Some people I know create a private group in their social media of choice (eg. Facebook) in which to post photos of their child and then only invite select people to be members of that group.
2. Reputation and personal privacy: when you post photos or information about your children, remember it hangs around for the best part of forever. Therefore, you are not just posting a photo of a child, you are posting a photo of a future adult. And with that in mind, you need to consider whether that future adult would really want that photo or piece of information shared with the world. Think of it kind of like those embarrassing photos you plan to share at their 18th, except its ongoing, and you’re sharing them with everyone you’ve ever known and, eventually down the line, all the friends your child will ever have in the future. Consider your child growing up, making their own Facebook account, and inheriting all those pictures you’ve tagged of them over the last 10 years or so and having them suddenly become visible to all their teenage friends. Imagine starting at high school and having all your friends viewing naked baby photos of you in the bath…
You may say this is worst case scenario, and perhaps it is, but you get the point. You are the custodian and, more than that, the protector of you children’s digital footprint. And in the 21st century, there won’t be too many more important things than their digital reputation.