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[Parent Tips] Help Your Child Understand and Build a Positive Digital Footprint

Monday, November 13, 2017 -- Sarah Cornelius

Today, even the youngest learners are savvy (and often insatiable) consumers of technology. The reality of life in this data-heavy, digital age is that leaving a trail is unavoidable. All of the simple, commonplace actions and interactions we engage in online contribute to a surprisingly detailed profile of who we are—a record sometimes referred to as our “digital footprint”.

For kids, the permanence of the simple online actions they take on a daily basis can be a difficult concept to grasp. However, helping them understand is key to keeping kids safe online and building good digital citizens. We’ve answered some of the questions parents need to know, plus put together several of our favorite tips to for building a positive digital footprint.

What is a digital footprint?

Every internet user has a digital footprint. This is simply a record of the actions you’re taking online—whether that’s visiting a favorite news website, making a purchase through an online retailer, logging into an interest-based community forum, sending email, or commenting on a friend’s social media post. For kids who have grown up with technology as an integral part of daily life, attaching their name to pictures, posts, forms, and other information is often taken for granted. Even though these all feel like inconsequential undertakings, all online actions are recorded and monitored by various parties, making them publicly accessible. And kids are not immune from having their actions tracked.

Why does leaving a positive footprint matter?

As mentioned above, digital footprints are publicly accessible, often to a surprising extent. Online advertisers use records of online purchases and website visits to serve up targeted advertisements (and they don’t discriminate by age). Kids need to be aware that their actions online affect the advertising they see, and have guidance and boundaries in place to consider that information critically.

Perhaps more impactful for students, colleges, universities, and employers consider digital footprints as well. It’s become the norm for these institutions to do some research on the online presence of potential candidates before extended offers. In fact, a recent Kaplan survey showed that 35% of college recruiters routinely look at applicant social media profiles, and CareerBuilder found that 70% of employers do the same. Kids need to be careful that their online profiles reflect upon them in an accurate and positive light.

What online habits help kids build a good digital footprint?

Leaving an online record is nearly impossible to avoid; having that record be a positive one is entirely possible. Here are five tips to help your child manage their online presence in a safe, proactive manner and start building a positive digital footprint today:

Only share personal information when necessary. Kids should be taught early on to exercise extreme caution before sharing personal details (like their name, email address, physical address, credit card information, and especially social security numbers) online. Identity theft and fraud are real concerns online; it’s important to help kids judge legitimate retail transactions or information requests from scams.

Take advantage of Internet privacy settings. Devices, browsers, and online programs (including social networks) offer options to limit the audience of posts, use nicknames or usernames, or turn off location settings. These small changes can make a world of difference to your child’s safety online.

Remind your child to always think before typing. Encourage your child to analyze the different ways their online writing could be interpreted and to be respectful at all times. Remind them that a comment or message sent online won’t go away—are the words they’re typing ones that they will feel bad about later on?

Manage online accounts and passwords closely. Between school programs, email addresses, social media networks, and more, take a moment to consider how many online accounts your child has. Especially if your child is middle school age or older, the number is probably pretty high. Managing these accounts is key to online safety. A few basic tips to remember are to not use the same password across accounts, store passwords in a safe place (there are lots of effective online services), and delete any accounts that your child is no longer active on.

Looking for more tips to help you child develop good online habits and build a positive digital footprint? Check out Common Sense Media for a variety of helpful resources to promote safe, responsible, and effective technology use in your household, or check out this blog post for 4 Tips to Teach Kids About Responsible Technology Use!