Yes, once again it’s summer! To celebrate the season I’m writing specifically for the parents of digital kids — suggesting ways that parents can use this more relaxed time of year to learn more about their own digital footprints.
While some of the activities are similar to those in a post from last year, this beginning-of-the-summer blog post aims to help parents gain a greater understanding of digital footprints for themselves — and then share this increased knowledge in conversations with their children. The longer-term goal, of course, is to ensure that each child returns to school in the fall with more knowledge about the family’s digital profile, their own digital footprints, and privacy.
Below are some suggestions to help parents get started learning.
Google yourself. See what digital footprints others see when they Google your name or your email address. Then go to the Dashboard, while you are logged in, and see how Google keeps track of your activities. Dashboard notes everything a person does on Google — from email to images to alerts to searches and much more. Once you finish up learning about your own digital trail, organize a family digital footprint party and help every member of the family go through the same steps.
- Most adults have no idea how many digital footprints they make, so take a day or two to keep track of yours. Include texts, phone calls, comments you might have made online, emails, websites visited, reservations, apps downloaded and used, online purchases and bills paid online as well as every purchase you make with a credit card in a store. Don”t forget to estimate how often your car goes through traffic cameras and pays automatic tolls. If you are estimating accurately this daily digital footprint, the number will be high. Share the number with your children and then help them estimate their own digital footprints. To learn more about digital footprints and how they are collected watch Hot On Your Trail over at NPR.
- Remember that images leave digital footprints. How many pictures have you uploaded on with social media apps? Instagram? Facebook? Shutterfly? Each picture leaves a digital footprint that’s added to your digital dossier. Examine your apps and decide whether some pictures should be removed. Now go through the same procedure with your children.
Speaking of photos, if you, a relative, or friend has a new baby and does not want to use Facebook to share photos, investigate Notabli, an app which provides private space for parents to post important photos. The parents send out subscription invites to friends and family members so they can check out new photos, but Notabli does not collect information or images so privacy is maintained, and the photos remain the property of the family. Many new parents have no idea about terms of service and the information that other apps and websites collect about them — and their babies.
- Engage in some digital device housekeeping, deleting apps and disconnecting from websites that you no longer use. You may also need to delete any accounts you set up for the apps. The site Just Delete Me provides information to help users delete information and accounts, and it describes how easy or difficult — some sites like Gawker hold on to information — deleting information can be.
Some older or elder adults in your family may receive one or more scam phone calls every single day, so help them learn how to cope with this problem. People receive calls from people who claim to be Microsoft Windows security technicians, scammers who call and try to get credit card numbers by offering “free” personal safety devices if a person will pay shipping, and the callers who pretend to call from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. (I just received this one a few minutes ago.) These callers can be quite convincing if they think the mark (the person being called) is uncertain, but these fraudulent callers are dangerous. Telephone scams cause all sorts of economic and personal harm and share digital footprints far and wide, so help your older adult family members learn more about what to do when they receive these calls. Help them learn how to consult Scambusters, Scamfinder, or Snopes.com any time they receive a phone call or email. Most importantly, teach them to hang up on these callers.
Plan a device-free outing or weekend for the family that makes almost no digital footprints. Keep one device turned off but nearby for emergencies, but otherwise, focus on activities — hiking, picnicking, swimming, exercising, or reading, to name a few. Try not to cheat when your children aren’t looking. To learn about one family’s experience check out Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers.
Adults need to develop a broad understanding of digital footprints and the decreasing privacy that comes with digital access. Then in conversations with their kids, parents need to pass on this information — helping their children become more careful and more thoughtful digital device users. Knowing more gives preadolescents and teens the tools they need to avoid potential problems that occur when they play in the connected world without adults. With your help, they become stronger citizens.
Teaching ourselves and then teaching our children well — isn’t that what we want for our children?