“Just because we hit the ‘delete’ button, doesn’t mean our post or photo is gone forever,” says Susan McLean, author of “Sexts, Texts & Selfies: How to keep your children safe in the digital space.” “Parents and children need to be reminded that they are never anonymous online and everyone has a digital footprint. Postings and comments can be found years later. Social media outlets partner with law enforcement all the time, making access to the content of most online accounts very easy.”
A 27-year police veteran, McLean is widely known in Australia as the “cyber cop.” Facebook, Twitter and Instagram turn to her as a top resource on internet safety and cyberbullying. She has been featured as a key resource for members of the YPO Parenting Network about educating their children on some of the risks they will encounter online.
The power of the digital footprint
While it’s not possible today for anyone to have a zero footprint, McLean urges parents to be the first teachers and enforcers of their child’s digital footprint. “Kids have a digital footprint the moment they arrive at school because their parents have posted events and photos of them from the time of birth, through toilet training to the first day of school.”
So when children become of age to have digital devices of their own and begin creating their own social media accounts, parent’s first line of defense according to McLean, is having a conversation with their child about posting, sharing pictures and their rights to privacy and consent.
“In a sense, you are paying for these devices, providing them to your children so you have to take the responsibility for how they are interacting on them,” McLean stresses. She encourages parents not to allow phones, tablets and laptops in their child’s bedroom where they are out of sight. Also, parents should get to know what apps and sites their child is using, see who they are friends with online and know their passwords.
To minimize your child’s digital footprint, McLean suggests a few key protection tactics:
- Know your child’s email address and password. When creating an email, be mindful not to incorporate birthdays or names and it’s best to stay away from “flirty, sexy or groovy” names as that may attract online predators.
- Don’t use headshots or other online photos as profile pictures on your social accounts or email. A photo of your cat or a beautiful landscape is much safer.
- Remember you are guilty by association in social media. Be aware of the friends you have attached to your page because others looking at your social media form opinions of you by what your friends post on your page as well.
- “Likes” from others on your social media is an unpaid endorsement. Know what you are “liking” and see what comments and posts are on the sites you “like” as well so you know what websites and content you are associating yourself with.
- “Google” your name for images and content that may pull up on a search. If other sites are posting photos of your children such as sports teams or school events, you may want to have them removed.
- Be careful not to use your name for your Bluetooth, WiFi or hotspots which makes it easy for users in close proximity to hack in or use your internet connection.
While being diligent as a parent is not always easy and some parents may feel as if they are being too intrusive in their child’s online interactions, McLean stresses that it is imperative for your child’s safety and reputation to pay attention. “It’s not an invasion of their privacy, it’s parenting in the 21st century.”