Most kids do not know what is meant by the term “digital footprint”. In fact, if you are a parent that isn’t sure of what a digital footprint is or why you need to be concerned about it, you are not alone. The term digital footprint refers to the trail that you leave behind in a digital environment. This includes the activities on the internet, mobile devices, texting, Facebook, twitter, YouTube, and more. Essentially, it is the trail that you leave in cyberspace. Unlike the footprints that you leave in the sand on the beach that wash away, a digital footprint is permanent. It cannot be washed away. Yes, you can remove photos and posts that are put up on Facebook or the history of your online activities from your computer, but that information is still out there in cyberspace lurking to surface when you least expect it.
So what can parents do in order to ensure that their child is leaving a digital footprint that will not handicap them in the future?
Six Simple Steps
1. Talk with your child and help him understand the permanence of his behavior and activities online and on mobile devices.
2. Remind your child not to share personal information online or via text. Although kids have heard this before, they still share more information with others than they should. This is particularly true on Facebook. In fact, in every study that I have done regarding the “friending” practices of minors on Facebook, over 95% of kids under the age of 18 accept friend requests from people they do not know. These people then have access to all kinds of information that your child has shared with his “friends”.
3. Search for your child’s name on Google on a regular basis and see what information is publically available. This is a good practice for you to do on yourself as well.
4. Teach your child that they are building a digital resume by what they share on line and by what is shared about them by their friends. It is a very common practice for potential employers and colleges to Google or Facebook a prospective employee or college applicant (especially when a potential scholarship is involved).
5. Encourage your child to control their digital footprint by reviewing photos and comments that they are tagged in and untagging themselves as necessary.
6. Observe your child’s online and social media activity. Complement his good choices publically. Help him correct his poor choices privately. Give lots of loving guidance along the way and understand that we all make mistakes. It’s how we learn.
First and lasting impressions are now formed online. Privacy may be a thing of the past, but empowering your child to use good judgment online will enable him to step into the future with his best foot forward.
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