Kid’s Digital Footprint: what parents need to know

Friday 10 October 2014

Kids love social networks. Half of them have a social network account by the age of 10 even though you must be 13 to legally open an account. Social networks aren’t only entertainment but also an extension of the playground where drama, gossip, stories, and daily life are commented.  Social status can be amplified positively and negatively through social network, that’s why kids pay attention and play this social game seriously. There is a feedback loop from the real playground to the virtual playground. They hunt for likes, shares, followers, and comments. Is this good or bad? Actually it is neither good nor bad. Growing up with different real and virtual identities is how the world works today. It is more important now than ever for parents to serve as a guide to help their children grow into their digital selves.

No adult allowed
In middle school, kids begin to learn social rules and group think : they talk about “cool” artists, movies “you just have to see”, the latest sneakers, people they should avoid hanging out with… It’s no secret, kids become embarrassed when parents drive them to school or during parent-teacher meeting. This is a part of developing an identity. The same thing happens on social network. Kids don’t want parents to read and comment on their profiles much less parents who post and tag pictures of their child.

Online identity
Different social networks are used by teens to express different things to different people. Much in the same way you are not the same person at home, out with friends, or at works; we do not communicate the same way or to the same people on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. For example on Facebook, kids can be friends with their parents, siblings and even grandparents. They don’t want them to read some comment made to their friends about the “new guy” at school. Kids have adapted quickly and now use Facebook to showcase what’s acceptable to “everyone”. They rely on other social network to express more freely with friends. They use screen names when using Twitter or Instagram to make harder for parents to know “who they are” (digitally speaking). They also use screen names to take on a different persona, it could be their more creative or athletic self that they portray through this social network.  Nonetheless this makes it harder to know if they behave, who they talk to, and what they share.

Risky behaviors
Kids are increasingly aware about privacy issues and don’t seek to cause trouble online.  But, like some adults, they still have a hard time knowing the limit of “right” and “wrong” online social behavior. They may be slightly impulsive, leading them to post something that once on the net can quickly spread at school. Pictures are the most shareable content and also have the most “staying” power. For example, by claiming that all content “self-destructs” after 10 seconds, Snapchat,  the popular messaging app, encourages silly or provocative behavior. It’s actually pretty easy to copy the picture before it self-destructs and to share it on other social networks. This creates a digital footprint.

Digital footprint
Wikipedia described a digital footprint as “the data that is left behind by users on digital services.” This data can become public when information is shared on public websites. Once it’s public, it’s hard to make it disappear; like getting a tattoo, you need to think about what you put out there because it tends to stay forever. Twitter and Instagram are “public” by default meaning that content you post can be referenced in search engines.
One of the most notorious examples is the university student who got arrested because she was intoxicated in the street. Police officers forgot to confiscate her smartphone and she started to tweet silly things while in jail for the night. “The web” started talking, sharing, and laughing about her story, generating many blog articles, tweets and posts. From this one mistake, the law student Samantha Goudie is now known as Vodka Samm all over the web. Everyone makes mistakes, but should our mistakes stick to us our whole life? In the twenty first century, the “right to be forgotten” is becoming a real issue. Europeans can now ask Google to remove all content related to their name it will be very interesting to see how this new law plays out.

How to deal with your child’s digital life?
Like in the real world, you need to talk to your child about their digital life and ask what social networks they use to stay in touch with friends. Like real life, you have to set rules to avoid exposing them too soon. For example, all social networks specify you must be at least 13 years old to create an account. We suggest you block these web sites and apps until your child is 13.

iChaper – the Mobile Chaperon – is a great service to  block and limit social networks on digital devices. When your kid does use a social network it’s important to keep an open dialogue and an open mind on their digital habits. Your kids need to feel they can talk about anything happening online. It’s also important to regulate social network use so they can develop their real identity as well as their virtual identity.  Limiting social networks to an hour a day is a good way to ease them into the virtual world. As they become more responsible and aware, you can allow them more time progressively. iChaper also allows you to set certain times for social networks to be used. Last but not least, it’s important to talk to your child about their digital footprint so they realize that what they do online can come back to haunt them in the real world down the line. Bottom line, it’s not easy to keep up with the fast-paced digital world but digital is and will increasingly be part of your child’s life, as a parent, you need to teach them how to grow into their digital identity responsibly. 

Posted by Shaun

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