How to protect your child's digital identity: 5 simple suggestions
One of the main reasons I started my own digital business over 5 years ago was because I was increasingly concerned about the impact social media would directly have on my young daughter. The dilemma was that although I wanted her to enjoy the positive aspects of developing a digital identity – connecting with friends, enjoying Minecraft and Roblox, and expressing herself creatively – I also wanted to protect her from the obvious downsides and protect her privacy.
I’ve been working in the digital space for nearly 2 decades now and the proliferation of social media – as well as its darker side created from the technology itself, or the person driving it – has come as no surprise. That is why I’ve been spending many years recently building a business around digital privacy. Yet, recently there has been a lot more awareness of this topic in the news, online and even on social media channels. Only this week, we received another warning about protecting children’s safety on a popular app (which legally they shouldn’t be on anyway).
So I am feeling now might be a good time to share what I’ve learned with other parents who are wanting to prepare themselves and their kids for this permanent digital extension of the real world – and yes, the digital world is not going away, if anything we need to teach kids how to become good digital citizens so they can hopefully thrive and build a better world in the future, online.
Here are my top suggestions:
- Get your head out of the sand.
Digital media is not going away. Your social media ‘Dad joke’ about how you couldn’t care less about looking at pictures of what people are having for lunch isn’t funny anymore (hint: it was never funny). You need to stop thinking about digital media as an addition to your children’s life and start developing their DQ, preparing them for the new reality where digital media is everywhere in the online or offline world.
- Understand what motivates your child to be online
Your child’s strong desire to engage online is increasingly a topic of academic enquiry. The current thinking is children are motivated by a desire to fit in with their peers, but other aspects such as exploration of content to fill in spare time and the feeling of having freedom, have also been identified as key motivators. Charities are also now encouraging families to talk more often to their children about their online lives.
- Get smart on what social media channels are popular.
How can you guide your son or daughter’s SnapChat use if you don’t know how to use SnapChat or even what it is? Finally solve the mystery of why your son or daughter is talking in that weird American accent. Do some research on what social media channels are popular. There are many lists out there like this one. Next, find out what’s appropriate for your child to have access to at their age (see the Australian Government eSafety Commission recommendations). Finally, educate them on why they shouldn’t use certain other channels right now. Together select a couple of age-appropriate social media channels they can use (that you can also follow) and together start to build a simple online profile of your child, making sure you default to the strictest privacy settings and that geolocation is switched off.
- Find an alternate safe online place
Your child needs a space they can store and share more private and precious content with their close friends. Search for online apps that have been specifically designed with privacy in mind. Either they’ve been developed using the ‘privacy by design’ approach and partnered with reputable organisations and parents, like pixevety, or are aimed at providing kids with a parent-monitored “social media training wheels” experience like KUDOS or GeckoLife. Remember free is not free. Majority of social media providers are in it for the money and monetisation of social media platforms often comes at the expense of your privacy.
- A simple checklist of do’s and don’ts online
A simple checklist will help them understand which channels or audiences is best for sharing different type of content. Ensure they’re aware of stranger danger and which sites are deemed “safer sites”. Teach them that online is forever. Give them real-life examples of how people have missed out on opportunities, put themselves at risk, or suffered a blow to their reputation as a result of online behaviour.
While we’re at it, give yourself some do’s and don’ts. Set a good example for your kids. Be transparent, ask for their consent whenever you want to share a photo or video of them online. Talk to your kids about what you’re doing online, the choices you’re making on social media, and why. Get off your phone once in a while!
Don’t let your kids be a social media statistic. A little early education and intervention can prevent a whole heap of heartache and issues down the track.
Let me know what your thoughts are on this.