Good Digital Parenting
Blog | Feb. 23, 2017

It's Never Too Late to Clean Up Your Digital Footprint

Office Coordinator, The Family Online Safety Institute

I’ll never forget the day “The” Facebook was introduced in my house. I was a sophomore in high school and my older brother was home visiting from college. We only had one computer in the house so, in true sibling rivalry fashion, there was a daily battle over its control. 

On a day when I lost, I remember my brother bragging about this new website for only college kids -- a site where he proclaimed that lame high schoolers couldn’t ruin. Intrigued and somewhat obsessed to find more about this new hip thing, I set out to do some snooping. 

My brother left the house suddenly to meet up with friends, so naturally, I took rule over the computer. To my delight and probably his dismay, he forgot to log out of his account. Posts about parties, relationships, and campus gossip covered his and his friends’ walls. I thought how cool it was to have a simple way of connecting with friends because Myspace was getting too complicated and flashy. Plus the dilemma of who to put in my “Top 8” became too much to bear.  

Fast-forward a while later, “The Facebook” finally opened its social doors and allowed high schoolers to join. My friends and I quickly ditched being Tom loyalists and embraced Mark’s new venture. We too began posting about our high school gossip, the relationships we were in and sadly in some cases, inappropriate language and activities at parties we attended. 

This trend continued into college. For some strange reason, my friends and I thought Facebook would disappear. We thought it was just a trend for young people at the time. Never in a million years did we think that it would be as integrated into society as it is today, so with that in mind, we posted any and everything without thinking of its lasting effect. College house parties, inappropriate chain posts, and the infamous ducklip selfies soon took over our pages. 

It wasn’t until we started applying for internships and jobs that we realized that what we did on the Internet was fair game to our employers and in many cases professors on campus. So many times I heard, “Oh my page is private, no one can see what I post,” or “No one is looking for me on social media.” Little did we know that all it took was a “friend connection” to share our page with the world. 

As we got older and started maturing I along with my friends really started thinking about the types of things we posted. There were fewer party posts and more community service photos. Less banter about trivial things and more insightful debate. Had we known that the posts from our youth would contribute to our digital DNA -- or our  “digital footprint” I am sure we would have things differently from the start.

Today’s world has access to a plethora of information literally at its fingertips. If you don’t know where Jakarta is, what do you do? You Google it. If you want to know Denzel Washington’s last movie what do you do? You Google it. If you want to know anything about your peer? You Google it.

If you were to Google your child today what would pop up? Would that article they wrote for their school’s newspaper show up? How about that class award they just received? Or would it be that inappropriate photo from last week’s party? Everything they post on the Internet is part of their online DNA. It is their digital trail left behind for the world to access at moment’s notice. 

I was already in college when social media really took off, so my parents weren’t around to monitor my online behavior. Plus, and I say this with love, they were/are technologically challenged and didn’t know much about the Internet. However today, kids are growing up with social media and parents are becoming more digitally literate. Your child’s ability to contribute to their online identity is getting younger by the day. It’s not just Myspace and Facebook anymore, it’s Instagram, Snap, Kik, Twitter, GroupMe and hundreds more. 

Talking to your kids and encouraging them to be conscious and smart of the things they post is critical, for college admission officers, employers, peers, and the world have access to information about their lives. This is not a scare tactic nor a plea to completely censor your child’s online behavior. There are a lot of positive things the Internet can offer, however, you have to expose them to both sides of the coin. As parents, you have to encourage them to make smart decisions about their posts. 

The Internet is not going anywhere nor is the ability to search for people online. What will your child’s online legacy be? Will people remember them for the good they contributed or will they remember them for the silly posts?

Want to know how to clean up not only your child’s digital footprint but also your own? Check out FOSI’s guide to make sure your footprint is one you’d be happy with.

*Image courtesy of www.flickr.com