Teaching Kids About Digital Footprints | Raising Responsible Digital Citizens

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"A digital footprint is a trail left by an entity's interactions in a digital environment; including their usage of TV, mobile phone, internet and world wide web, mobile web and other devices and sensors. Digital footprints provide data on what an entity has performed in the digital environment; and are valuable in assisting behavioral targeting, personalization, targeted marketing, digital reputation, and other social media or social graphing services."
The definition above is taken from Wikipedia. I read a post this morning by Jennifer at Hip As I Wanna Be about an incident involving her son, text messages and one of her son's female classmates. I won't go into the details here so that I don't misquote or misrepresent; but I will say it's not that bad, it could have been worse and Jennifer and her son are handling it the same way I would with Tyler.

kids responsible digital citizens

Parents: cell phones and iPod Touches are not toys. I know it's hard to convince our kids otherwise because of the crossover. We and our children use them for entertainment, but they need to be treated with a lot more respect than I see them getting. I'm continually confounded by people who hand these devices over to their children with no parental controls in place, no monitoring and without having serious discussions with their kids about that definition above and exactly what it means.

Each one of us has our own digital drawer in the card catalog of the world. Every time we hit send, reply, publish, share, like or any other verb, we add another entry into that card catalog. Remember last December when a student in Vienna requested a copy of his personal data from Facebook? After being on Facebook for only one year, the site had more than 1200 pages of information on him and his network of friends!

Kids are starting to fill their card catalog drawers at an early age, and unfortunately, like in the case of Jennifer's son's classmate, those entries aren't always good. Now, I know times are different. I certainly can't shield Tyler from everything. He has an iPod, he's played Call of Duty at friends' houses. But. 

Before we gave him the iPod I set up every parental control Apple allows, we explained the rules and consequences and we have his iPod in our room. He has to ask for it in order to play with it. He can play online games like World of Warcraft, but he's a low level user and my husband has turned off the chat feature. Tyler knows to come to us if anyone sends him a chat request.

It's my responsibility to make sure my son is not abusing his technology and to teach him to have respect for what it can do. It's my responsibility to talk to him about computer viruses, malware, spywear, and the idea that everything he does online is being filed away somewhere. Sometime in the future, someone is going to open his card catalog. What kind of things will he want that person to see? What kind of impression will he want to make?

Handing children under 14 a digital device and then walking away is irresponsible and can be dangerous. Parents, please talk to your kids about how long things can "live" online. Teach them about cyber bullying, sexting* and how to respond to those types of situations. I think it's awesome that Jennifer and her son have the type of relationship where he felt he could talk to her. I hope that's the type of trust I have with my son.

What are you doing to educate your kids about their digital footprints? Have you already had a bad experience with your kids? How did you handle it?

*When age appropriate, of course

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


  1. This is a scenario I am not quite ready for (my little one is almost 7). We didn't have these devices when we were their age, so there is no personal experience to draw upon here.

    I haven't had this scenario, but I have had a taste. My ex-husband gave my 6 year old an I-touch. No discussion with me as to whether it's appropriate to give a 6 year old this device, but that is another story.

    I do have to make sure it is on airplane mode when she comes back from his house as he connects to his wifi and she would not be safe from the Internet that way.

    Just this past weekend, she decided she was into making movies, and walked around videotaping me when I didn't know it. Including one time I was bending over to get something from underneath the bed, and let me tell you, it was NOT pretty.

    It's becoming very clear that I need to come up with a game plan and strategy around this thing. That said, I am eager to hear from other parents. I also am eager to hear about parents with ex-spouses who are more permissive than they should be with these things - how do you handle two households with 2 different sets of rules around technology?

    1. Excellent point, Erika! I didn't think about how it would affect kids who spend time in more than one household. That's a tough one.

    2. Ideally both co-parents would discuss the strategy, but what if you don't share the same values? I have struggled with a variety of big differences in our parenting styles.....and while all parents deal with this, divorced or not, there is an additional stressor with ex-spouses. And then add to the mix new spouses (step-parents) and you have an entirely NEW dynamic! Just trying to focus on my parenting, and teaching what I feel is important....as that is all I can affect.

  2. I'm continually confounded by people who hand these devices over to their children with no parental controls in place, no monitoring and without having serious discussions with their kids about that definition above and exactly what it means.


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