October 5, 2022

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Digital Footprints: Raising Kids Online

Digital Footprints: Raising Kids Online

Since the dawn of the Internet, people have viewed kids using the Web with suspicion and fear.  Similar to the way video games were blamed for rising teen violence rates, the Internet became the next scapegoat.  School shootings were linked to chat rooms and message boards.  Bullies young and old took to harassing their victims online.

The next wave of child-Internet safety concerns found online predators lurking in AOL chat rooms, then on MySpace.  As depicted on the popular NBC series “To Catch a Predator,” the web was a place for pedophiles to violate parole, gaining access to and the trust of innocent children.

Why then, knowing the possibilities of the big, bad Internet, are people raising their kids online?

Simple answer: For many, it’s a part of life as a 21st century parent.

Proud and digitally-involved parents share photos on Flickr, stories about their children on their blog and purchase the URLs of their kids’ names.  But how will their enthusiasm affect their kids?

Safety First

But when it comes to posting kid-centric content, local marketing and PR experts tend to talk about their kids without talking about their kids.  Doug Haslam refers to his son as “Boy” when sharing stories about Little League and other activities.  Similarly, podcaster and new media marketer C.C. Chapman has a nine year-old and a seven year-old, whose hometown and school names won’t be found online, at least not in any of C.C.’s content.

“Kids today” are probably the first generation to be brought up online, in the sense that their parents have catalogued their lives on the web, like a scrapbook for all to see.  Aged ten and below, these youngsters don’t quite understand what their digital footprint is.  But they are learning about online safety and making good choices from their parents.

“Just like in the real world, they have to be smart about talking with strangers,” Chapman advised.

But ensuring safety is just the first step.

Teaching and Managing a Digital Identity

Since Facebook opened to the masses, we’ve all heard the horror stories.  Recent grads passed over for jobs because of red plastic cups of beer, pageant dreams ruined by naughty pictures–all issues of identity management.  Learning that even the sprawling Internet has a fourth wall and people are watching is a tough lesson.

For the next generation of digirati, parents are teaching this by example.

C.C. shared that he won’t “post anything that is overly embarrassing–questionable photos and truly personal stuff stays offline.”  That also includes acting ethically online; now that his kids are of age to understand, he asks their permission before posting their photos or videos online.

At a certain point, it’s the kid behind the camera, mobile device or social networking profile.

“Give kids freedom to make their own choices and mistakes just like the rest of their lives, but pay attention to what they are doing, where they are going and what they are saying/posting online.” C.C. advised.

A Set Up for Future Embarrassment?

When these kids are in high school and college, will a prerequisite for dating my teenage daughter be reading my blog?  Before taking a date home to meet the folks, will these cyber-minded teens Google each other?  Or each other’s parents?  Will dating go the way of job interviews, scanning the social networks to make sure you’re making the right decision?

Maybe. But is it really that earth-shattering?

It’s too soon to tell if and when these kids gain awareness of their digital footprint, what it will mean to their on and offline identity.  However, with the web becoming a mainstay in how we interact and learn about each other, on and offline identity will likely be one in the same by the time these kids are in college.

Pamela Sieple, an expecting mother and author of the Little Baby Lump blog, said, “The blog is basically just a more personal, virtual baby book.”

Baby books have embarrassed teens, tweens and pre-teens for as long as they’ve existed, and long before the Internet.

As Pamela put it, “We all have to go through some level of parental embarrassment, right?”

Too true.

Sandy Kalik is an Account Executive at SHIFT Communications.  She blogs at Sandying, tweets @skalik and can be reached at skalik@shiftcomm.com.

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  1. aazrock@yahoo.com'
    Adam Zand

    I tend to reference my son as My Man or The Boy or HRH (His Royal Highness) in Tweets or Utterz. However, when I’m in comfortable surroundings (Mzinga BBQ, PodCamp Boston, Tech Karaoke, WebInnovo, Pulver Pizza) with friends and SoMe peeps, I’ll name names and be the proud dad of a nine-year old with an internship.
    Being digital/online/followed/friended is second nature for lots of age groups these day. My kid’s been able to get on the Internet since age two, and has moved so beyond Club Penguin that he has a job with http://www.creaturepark.com (Ingeeni Studios in Somerville) in product development, feedback and as a tour guide for the virtual world. Proud unemployed Dad is me!
    To the other discussion – I do question the scare tactics of alerts and reports on cyber stalking and bullying since a vast majority of crimes against kids come from relatives, not strangers. That’s the epidemic – not the “evils” of social networks.

  2. jzingsheim@customscoop.com'
    Jen Zingsheim

    Great post Sandy! I must admit, I am one of the ones who question this level of sharing about kids online…not for the safety reasons cited (but that is obviously something that parents need to consider). My question really goes to the fact that parents are creating online archives for individuals who are not fully-developed personalities yet. For instance, my sister and I have radically different personalities. It’s hard sometimes to believe we come from the same genetic profile sometimes. My comfort level of sharing and disclosure is different than hers.
    Are parents really being fair to kids who are inherently shy, and aren’t comfortable with themselves as they get older?

  3. luke.gilkerson@covenanteyes.com'

    Our kids really growing up in a more confessional culture, where it is more in vogue to air their dirty laundry and raw moments. Whether we think this is a good thing or not, we need to acknowledge that as a cultural trend and teach our kids responsibility and the value of thinking ahead.
    Good post! Thanks!

  4. sandy.kalik@gmail.com'
    Sandy Kalik

    @zandman we’re proud of the boy (HRH) too!
    @Jen That’s an argument I’ve thought a lot about–is it fair to be creating another person’s digital footprint before that person knows who he/she is? Well, when you put it that way, it sounds terrible. But in many ways, I think it’s more of a reflection of the parents than the child. The kids in question can grab the reigns, when they become of age, or shy away as they learn about and define their own personalities.
    @Luke I don’t like the idea that it’s fashionable to have a checkered past–then again, I look on TV and see Britney in rehab and Paris caught for something scandalous and I may need to concede your point. Truth is, a lot of the dirty laundry you speak of has always been around. People are being more honest and open about it. Whether that leads to better decisions being made or if it perpetuates and normalizes bad behavior… Well, I think that’s a glass half full / half empty sort of question.

  5. luke.gilkerson@covenanteyes.com'

    @Sandy – I agree people have always had their dirty laundry, its just that it is more in vogue to show it off. I also agree that it can normalize bad behavior. Its a sort of shamelessness that is really unhealthy for a culture. It would be one thing to see people coming clean on their mistakes with a sense of remorse and a track record of change, but we rarely see that today.

  6. sandy.kalik@gmail.com'
    Sandy Kalik

    @Luke I bet it happens, but it doesn’t make good TV. What do you think is more entertaining? Sex, drugs and rock-and-roll? Or happy, healthy families? The answer is the unfortunate truth of our culture–I don’t buy the agenda setting theory for the media. I think mainstream consumers tend to get what they want.

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