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Resources and discussion for parents, teachers and young people navigating the evolving landscape of the digital world.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

What's Your Digital Footprint?

"Digital footprint" is the term used to describe the trail one leaves through cyberspace. Just about everyone has a digital footprint nowadays, and it's important to understand what it means and how much control you have over it. For our kids, this is especially important because they don't always think long-term, and their concept of privacy is very different than that of older generations (see this video for parents and teachers, from Common Sense Media.) Our tendency (well, mine anyway), when we hear scary/embarrassing/shocking stories about online shenanigans, is sometimes to overprotect, saying, "just don't put yourself out there like that." Is that the answer, though? Upon more reading and reflection, I don't think so.

For one thing, many of our kids are already online, and it's too late to say "just don't do it." What's more, that attitude closes the door on meaningful teaching and learning, and open communication. The scary/embarrassing/shocking stories are teaching opportunities and conversation starters. "Don't put yourself out there like that" is a legitimate statement, but very different from "don't put yourself out there" at all.

Secondly, we need to teach kids, in an ongoing fashion, some very important critical thinking skills. Your digital footprint is absolutely something you have some control over and can build in your favor, therefore, thinking before you post information is essential.

From A Parents' Guide to Facebook
Reputation Point: There is nothing wrong with having a
digital footprint – hundreds of millions of people do now – but parents want their children’s digital footprint to be a positive reflection on them. It’s vitally important to be aware that we’re leaving a trail of information and careful about what we say online. It’s also good to be aware of what others are saying about us. The key to having a positive reputation online is being a good digital citizen: behaving civilly and respectfully toward others online and sharing positive information about oneself in blogs, social networking sites and other social media.

While we're on the topic of Facebook, let me interject here...There is a reason that Facebook requires users to be 13 years old. The privacy settings inherent in this social environment are different when you're under 18, and more protections are in place for users at an age when they don't necessarily understand what is in their best interests. If you have a child that has falsified his or her age in order to have a Facebook account, your child may be missing out on some of these built-in protections. Reading A Parents' Guide to Facebook, particularly the "Reputation Points," can help you/your child figure out the best privacy settings to use, and guide you in some discussions about the digital footprint you are/your child is creating.

So how can one take control of their digital footprint? Or figure out what it is in the first place? The first thing to do would be to Google yourself, and see what comes back in the search results. Is it a surprise? Next, I would recommend you read this, Controlling your digital identity is as easy as 1-2-3, from one of my favorite bloggers, The Innovative Educator. It may be more information than you need right now, but if you get anything out of it at all, it's worth the read. After all, your digital footprint is growing every day, even if you aren't aware of it...

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