How to Help Students Create a Positive Digital Footprint

digital footprintChildren today are more tech savvy than previous generations and have digital footprints from increasingly earlier ages. Many parents “share” their children online before they are even born, through pregnancy updates and sonograms. Some parents post status updates about their child’s milestones, grades, sports, and activities. According to online security firm AVG in a 2012 study, 81% of U.S. children have a digital footprint before age two. But how can we keep this online imprint positive?

Importance of a positive digital footprint:

It’s difficult for children to consider their long-term future, like a college acceptance or job opportunities, but as adults we know how vital a first online impression will be. Kids may be able to relate more to short-term goals.

Kids might consider what their digital footprint expresses to the neighbor thinking of hiring them for summer babysitting, dog walking, or yard work, to the coach they are trying out for next season, to teachers and principals, or to peers and classmates counting on them to positively impact online and offline communities.

Kids are creating a digital footprint if they are participating on social media. That’s why it’s important to take control and manage that imprint.

Whether you are a parent or an educator, here are 3 things to consider when teaching children to create a positive digital footprint:

1. Monitor and educate: Guide children to use digital media as a resource for learning and making positive connections. Talk early and often about the pros and cons of social media and model how to participate in a positive way. As parents and educators, it’s our job to know what digital media our kids our using and to become familiar with the security settings. Use those settings to limit who a child interacts with based on age, skill level, and maturity. Many parents and schools introduce kids to social media by requiring the use of an “online” name. This is a good idea for younger children and early tweens – especially with online games. But many sites, like Facebook, forbid the use of a false identity because the site is meant for social interaction, spreading news and sharing authentic information.  Using a false name may distort a child’s view of what they can and can’t say.  A comfort zone of anonymity can generate problems like cyber bullying.

2. Make positive connections: Remind kids who they associate with will reflect back. This is especially true online, and children should understand that while social networks are vast and seemingly anonymous, online friends should be chosen with the care and consideration given to offline friends. Read someone’s profile before friending, visit their website or examine past posts before following or connecting with them.

3. Build a positive digital footprint: One of the best ways for kids to create a positive digital footprint is to highlight their achievements and success. Encourage kids to share links to any online news accounts showcasing their achievements and post information about their community service projects or extracurricular activities. Share academic awards, sports, and civic accomplishments. Sharing this information can show a pattern of success that can create opportunities and leave a positive digital footprint. Encourage kids to develop positive online AND offline leadership skills. A great way for children to learn the concept of paying it forward is to share links from favorite bloggers, books, shows, and news stories. This allows kids to take responsibility for creating a positive culture in their own networks. They are paying it forward by giving the creator of the content positive attention and showing maturity by sharing safe, positive, information within their online community! Through this kind of positive participation, a child learns how to network with future colleagues and is focused on suitable online behavior, not just surfing aimlessly.

For more tips on helping students build positive online presences, visit Hay There Social Media.

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