The digital footprints of children

The eyes of a child

This beautiful portrait of my youngest son is by my incredibly talented father. Click on image to see more of his work.

The on-line world knows a great deal about my boys. They have a digital imprint that took shape before they were even born – when I first mentioned pregnancy on social media. And it’s starting to worry me – what these digital footprints will mean.

I wonder, what are your security questions for secure accounts? What primary school you went to? The name of your first pet? Your mother’s maiden name perhaps? Things that no-one but you and those very close to you would know, right?

Now, if someone looked at your social profiles, could they answer those questions for your children? For me, the answer is yes. Facebook posts, this blog and other social media would easily reveal the name of our dog, where my child goes to school and my maiden name. Before they are old enough to have any kind of self-generated internet presence, my kids already have an impressive digital footprint.

I have four main concerns:

  1. How to protect my children from on-line strangers who would use their image or their identity in a fraudulent or frightening way.
  2. The information that could be collated and stored about my kids. Facebook uses the way we interact with it and other sites to in order to target its advertising. I know I sound slightly like a conspiracy theorist, but mining big data is big business.The more digital breadcrumbs we leave, the tastier the cake ends up being for advertisers. I think this trend will continue to grow. Through birth announcements, requests for advice, incidental status updates, the sharing of funny anecdotes, events, a whole bunch of photos and their accompanying meta-data, my children have fairly comprehensive digital profiles.
  3. That the information I am sharing, which seems cute and funny right now, may ultimately lead to embarrassing my kids.
  4. That when my children are old enough to have their own social media profiles, they will post something unwise and it will lead to a digital drama.

So, aside from deleting my social media channels (unlikely) or having a blanket ban on posting anything to do with my children (also unlikely), what should I do? What should you do?

Firstly, ensuring that Facebook privacy settings are correct is a big one. They need to be looked at regularly and its a good idea to periodically check what your profile looks like to the public. You can do this by going into your profile, click on the button and choose view as > public. You might see a number of older profile and cover images, which you can then hide from your timeline. Remember cover photos and profile photos are publicly viewable, so think about what you use.  You can also create a group of trusted friends within your larger Facebook friend group and make sure that when you post pictures of kids or status updates about them, they are only visible to that group. This Facebook help article tells you how to do that.

Secondly, think about your personal policy regarding your children on-line. You might be happy to share them on closed networks within Facebook, but not on a more open platform like Twitter or Instagram (if you have a public account). Make sure that your friends and family know your position. And unless you are absolutely certain that their parents won’t mind, don’t post photos of other people’s children.

Thirdly, think carefully when you post about your kids. A beautiful author friend of mine, who very occasionally writes about her son, told me her litmus test is this:  Would my son or I be embarrassed to read this when he is eighteen? Would I be proud to have him discover these words when he is eighteen? I think that’s an excellent perspective and applies as readily to photos and posts as it does longer pieces of prose.

Lastly, keep conversations about social media open. Ensure that kids are aware of online risks and the longevity of any social media post (even if its on a platform that supposedly deletes posts after a period of time or purports anonymity). There are some great tips on the Australian Cybersmart site and at The Modern Parent (Thanks Lisa for the tip)

What are you concerns about your child’s digital footprint?
Any other tips?

24 thoughts on “The digital footprints of children

  1. Bec says:

    Wow. I had never thought about this before. I post lots of photos and quotes regarding my kids on Facebook and Instagram, and while I’m pretty sure these are private, your article has prompted me to be more vigilant. Thanks for this and your other insightful articles! I’m new to your blog and loving it!

    • Robyna says:

      It’s a tricky balance I think, and I suppose there are a LOT of us in the same boat. So lovely to have you here – thank you for being so kind!

  2. Lisa says:

    That is why I don’t blog about my kids and try to limit my kids photos on FB or Instagram. I never mention their names or take photos in their school uniform on the web. Many friends and family think I am over-protective, but I have heard of a couple of blogger children’s photos stolen from SM and used for skanky R rated websites profile pics. And don’t get me started on people posting naked pics of their kids on social media. eg. swimming or in the bath or backyard. I know my actions aren’t foolproof and the fact that FB prefers you to comment in groups on your personal page drives me mad! Sorry this post is so long but I think we need to be mindful. Check out Martine from The Modern Parent for more social media/kids protection posts. Great post Robyna

    • Robyna says:

      I can totally understand your position Lisa – I am not as vigilant as you, but I often think I should be. I don’t know how parents can post naked photos – for the obvious reason of where they might be used (I can’t even think about it) but I’m not sure how fair it is to your kids. Will definitely check out the Modern Parent.

  3. Clare at Girl Fifteen says:

    This is a tricky one, I don’t post photos of the kids on Instagram as it is a public account and I don’t put many on Facebook anymore. I do cringe a bit when I see photos of the schools clearly showing the name of the school in people’s social media and don’t even get me started on cute naked kid pics. I think we all feel like we are in charge of our posts and social media, but I fear that is not the case. Oh dear, I do sound a bit doom and gloom ‘big brother is watching you’ don’t I? Great post by the way x

    • Robyna says:

      I was worried that I might come over a little conspiracy theorist, but I do think there are consequences to putting all this information out there and we need to think about them. Thank you!

  4. Maxabella says:

    I’ve never really had an issue with my kids’ (or my own) digital footprint because I just don’t share all that much. It has always been interesting to me that many people will not show a photo of their children on their blog / Facebook page, but will write intimate details of their kids’ lives instead. I’m the opposite: my kids mugs are all over the place, but I keep their personal stories personal. I very rarely post on Facebook. I will write about issues that we face as a family, things I’m pondering as a mother, but rarely do I write about my kids’ actual lives. The exception has been Max’s childhood anxiety, which I’ve referred to from time to time and all three children’s sleep issues, which I have been talking about loudly their whole lives. x

    • Robyna says:

      I am finding that I tend to do the same – and I am grateful for Facebook photos of my kids because it’s a really accessible photo album. I try to think about whether my kids would be okay with me sharing a photo or story when they are a bit older. Will be interesting to see when they all get social media accounts how concerned/unconcerned they are about what has already been shared.

  5. birdandfox says:

    I don’t have kids yet myself but have often wondered what I will do when the time comes (assuming I continue this blogging caper). This post has helped to calm some of my concerns! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Robyna 🙂

  6. Karen says:

    Great post! I very rarely post photos or mention the names of my kids on my blog. I do on Facebook, with settings for friends only. My kids are teenagers so they are all over their own social media but I have found they are quite conservative in what they post to their own accounts. I think with all the cyber bullying lectures they had in school and seeing friends embarrassed by stupid photos, that they know that things come back to bite them in the arse. I did make a rule that I had to be their friend but know that if I read something that is a bit “off” that I will message them and ask them about it. x

    • Robyna says:

      I think kids are pretty social-media savvy – and I know lots of schools do a great job teaching them about it – I do worry about teenaged lapses in judgment. It’s great that you are a part of their social media lives – I hope to do the same with my boys when they are old enough.

  7. Julie @ Off to the park says:

    Wow, you’ve got me thinking now. I created ‘lists’ on Facebook and share certain posts with certain people I usually ask myself “Does x need to know this?”

    Now that my girls are getting older they are starting to notice more esp Popette who can read (over my shoulder!) and notice photos of us that I’ve used in a blog post or on social media. I am starting to think that once she reaches a certain age (not sure yet) that I will discontinue using her photo, the same with Cherub. 🙂

    • Robyna says:

      My eldest still loves having his photo taken and often ASKS for it to be put on Facebook. That will no doubt change as he gets older. It’s a tricky call as a blogger who blogs about parenting.

  8. Zoe | A Quirky Bird says:

    Times have changed and social media has become an integral part of life. I have considered my kids digital footprint too. Thanks for reminding me about the security stuff. Zoe xx

  9. Grace says:

    It’s a fine line on what to share. While I post photos of my boys, I am mindful. As Facebook becomes more intuitive about its users, we need to be more vigilant.

    • Robyna says:

      It will be interesting to see how all that data is used in the future – and what kind of backlash that could potentially create.

Comments are closed.