How can you protect your child’s online identity? But, more, importantly how should you protect your child’s online identity?
Our children’s online identity and it’s protection is fast becoming a top parenting concern. However, not necessarily in the way that you might first think. Really it begins by asking the question: Who exactly should be creating a child’s internet footprint, their online identity? Should it be us, their parents? Or our children? Left to create and explore online identity for themselves when they come of age?
In the beginning… Social Media
With the explosion of Social Media in recent years, I like most adults my age have a personal ‘online identity’. These ‘online identities’ are identities that we created and ultimately identities that we had and still have personal control of; of what we share and how much we choose to share.. Why? Because we were there at the beginning! MSN Messenger, MySpace, Bebo… Then Facebook! We were at the forefront of this new technology, us thirty somethings are the generation that got the ball rolling!
Who am I ‘online’ and what does it have to do with my kids?
Having made the decision to start a blog, I spent a lot of time thinking about what my ‘blogging identity’ would be. I then created that identity online through my website and social media presence. I set up the site, opened a plethora of social media accounts and ‘ChallengeClare’ was born.
Creating ChallengeClare prompted me to think about the influence and impact of ‘online identities’. I then started to consider what effect the interaction of parents today with social media means for the ‘online identities’ of children today. Will children today have the freedom to create and control their own persona online in the way that we have or have we as parents overstepped the mark and made it impossible with what we have shared about our children?
My children were born pre-social media, No Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat… There wasn’t even ‘shudder’ digital cameras! We printed photos!! Sharing news about my children was via phone calls, text messages and literally sending photos through the post to my family.
The arrival of Facebook
But all of that changed when I signed up to Facebook late 2004 aged 24.
I had just finished University. My friends and family were all over the country. Facebook appeared to be a really good way to stay in touch, and for us to continue to share what was happening in our lives, over the miles.
My account was private, accessible only to my friends and family. I viewed Facebook as a useful means of communication, and I regularly posted pictures of my children (who were aged 3 and 5 at the time) without a second thought.
Fast forward to 2012, life had changed. I now worked as a teacher, my family had expanded and I now had two step children. The boys aged 11, 12, 13 and 14 were in secondary school, and were starting to create and use their own social media accounts.
Life was still busy, a relocation meant that our family and friends were still all over the UK making keeping in touch a priority. Facebook was the perfect communication tool. I continued to regularly post information about my children with no concern. But then I read an article about the effect of parents ‘oversharing’ on social media. It went on to discuss how it would now be difficult for the next generation of young adults to control their own online identity in the same way that we had. Purely because parents like me had unwittingly ‘overshared’ throughout their childhood.
I was horrified. I hadn’t thought about what it could mean for them as adults. Essentially embarrassing childhood photo albums were potentially out there in the public domain. I swiftly deleted all information relating to my children on social media at that point. From that point, other than the odd profile picture and odd proud mum comment (with their permission)I still don’t post anything about them. I want them to be able to control their own online identity in the same way that I had been able to.
Now here we are in 2017. The boys are 16, 17, 18 and 19, and here I am starting this blog, (ironically to fill the gap in my life that has been filled by parenting for the last 18 years!) My sons are men now, I do not follow them on social media, nor do I want to. Actually, that’s a big fat lie I want to know everything!! But it wouldn’t be fair, they are entitled to their privacy and let’s face it; I’m not their friend, I’m their parent and there are a lot of things that it would be better if I just did not know about! Equally there are things that it’s best that they don’t know about their parents! It’s fair to say that In this case sharing is most definitely not caring!
But… When our children are little it is so hard to imagine them as adults, that little boy as a strapping man. So, it seems harmless to share their development and achievements with friends and family online.
Then when they get to the age that they want to become active on social media in their own right, our fear for their personal safety means we want to protect them. So we insist on being involved in their social media activity during their teen years (guilty!) It’s a ridiculously tough balancing act…
Maybe our rule of thumb should be to not post anything until our children are old enough to give permission, or share privately through whats app or other private messaging apps? I most definitely do not have anything near an answer to this… But it is certainly food for thought.
What do you think? I’d love to know…