Teaching Children About Digital Footprints

Do your children know that they leave a digital footprint or trail every time they go online, like cookie crumbs leading from the kitchen to their bedroom?

A digital footprint sometimes called a digital shadow or an electronic footprint refers to the trail of data you leave when using the Internet. It includes websites visited, emails sent, and information submitted online. A digital footprint can be used to track a person’s online activities and devices. 

A digital footprint is classified into two categories, which are active digital footprints and passive digital footprints

An active digital footprint is where the user has deliberately shared information about themselves. For example, through posting or participating on social networking sites or online forums. 

A passive digital footprint is created when information is collected about the user without them being aware that this is happening. For example, this occurs when websites collect information about how many times users visit, where they come from, and their IP address.

Kids are growing up in the instant data era. Your child’s digital footprint and the way they behave online are important because children have grown up with technology all around them and are not yet equipped with the knowledge that their actions go far beyond that Facebook post they just left. 

A poor decision made in a split second can damage your child’s digital footprint and follow them to adulthood, which is why teaching your child about a good digital footprint is important. The data posted are relatively permanent, and once the data is public or even semi-public, as may be the case with Facebook posts the owner has little control over how others will use it. 

Here are some things that parents should discuss with their children about their digital footprint:
  • Explain to them what a digital footprint is.
  • Explain to your child that what goes online stays online.
  • Get them to type their name into a search engine. They may be surprised by what comes up.
  • Encourage them to ask permission before tagging photos or videos of friends and family.
  • Explain that they could be breaking the law if they make comments about someone online (it could be disrespectful).
How Kids Can Improve Their Digital Footprint?

Your child’s digital footprint can be controlled by following some simple Internet rules. When talking to your children about their digital footprint, give them the following tips:

Always Be Smart When Web Browsing: Don’t visit sites that make them nervous, uncomfortable, or unsure about what they are looking at. If they are at school or a friend’s house and see someone doing so, tell an adult right away.

Turn on the Social Media Privacy Settings: Some social media sites are not always forthcoming about their privacy settings and have come under fire many times because of it. However, every social site, blog, and online profile has privacy settings. The most important of these settings is making your account private and manually approving any new friends or followers. 

Be Responsible on Social Media: Don’t ever disclose personal information, like address, phone number, or bank information, and most importantly, think before you post. Anything children post online, whether it’s a social media upload, a comment on a blog post, or a response in a forum, is public and can be discovered by almost anyone.

As parents, nothing is more important than to ensure that your child is on the right track and doing the right things online. 

Here are some ways in which parents can help keep their child’s digital footprint safe:
  1. Share with Care:

    You may worry about the kind of photos and comments that your child may be posting and that schools or universities may come across these in months, or years, to come. 
    One of the most important parts of looking after your child’s digital footprint is thinking about who can see any images they share, messages they send, or public comments that they post. Remember it’s better to have a good online presence than none at all. Instead of just holding back from posting inappropriate comments, ask your child to think about how everything they share fits into their online persona. Does it represent how they want others to see them?

  1. Avoid disclosing private data on public Wi-Fi:
    A public Wi-Fi network is inherently less secure than your personal one since you don’t know who set it up or who else might be watching. Avoid sending personal information when using public Wi-Fi networks.
  1. Avoid unsafe websites:
    Make sure your child is browsing on a secure website – the URL should start with https:// rather than http:// – the “s” stands for “secure” and indicates that the site has a security certificate. There should also be a padlock icon to the left of the address bar. Never share any confidential information on unsecured sites, especially payment details.

Kids need constant guidance throughout their adolescence, and this is especially true online, where a single comment can spark a worldwide controversy overnight.  It’s never too early to help your child to begin cleaning up or reducing their digital footprint. When families talk about digital footprints, kids are in a better position to use them appropriately. 

Kids grow up fast, and technology changes even faster.  Let your child know to bring pride to what they say and do by being positive and respectful. It will help leave a stronger digital footprint. 

“What you post online speaks VOLUME about who you really are. POST with intention. REPOST with caution.”-  Germany Kent

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