Most people don’t really understand how much information exists online about them. We nonchalantly go about our day scrolling through Instagram, searching on Google, buying things from Amazon and never thinking twice about the crumbs we leave everywhere.
To get a general idea of the digital footprint that I have, I went to Google and searched for myself. I used a simple trick to focus the search and make it more specific by wrapping my name in quotes (ex: “Derek Jackson”). This way, Google will only show results that match the words exactly how they appear between those quotes. How many results do you think you’d have? 100? 1000? How about 34,000? Yes, you’re reading that right. Google has indexed more than 30 thousand pages on the internet that have some piece of information about me, or about someone with the same name.
And these things don’t ever go away. There are dozens of tools that constantly store snapshots of content on the internet. Even giving you the ability to look at what your Facebook profile looked like 10 years ago when you were still in college. Shocking.
This is why it is your responsibility, as a parent, to guide your kids in making smarter online decisions with their future in mind. Our kids have grown up with social media in their pockets. Any thought or question they have can be answered in seconds by saying “Hey Alexa/Siri/Google, what’s _____?” They begin posting personal details about their life, naive to the impact this could be having on their digital reputation.
In order to teach your children healthy habits and how to be mindful about their digital footprint, I want to emphasize that it’s not about the amount of time they are spending online, it’s about what they are doing during this time. It comes down to the 3 C’s: content, context and connections. Talk to your kids about what they are posting and interacting with (content), where they are posting and watching (context) and the people that they are communicating with (connections). Use your judgment to decide what kind of information they should be putting out there and the kinds of interactions they should engage with in order to set them up for success.
As it is becoming increasingly common for companies and universities to look at a person’s digital footprint, it is important to begin thinking about these things early on. And as technology grows and evolves, this online presence will continue to carry weight in their everyday lives and either create opportunity or interfere with their goals. Your kids likely aren’t considering how their TikTok post could affect them ten years down the road when they are applying for college scholarships. And explaining that to an 8-year-old probably won’t resonate. So for now, you should focus on instilling long-term habits that will result in the development of a positive online reputation and clean digital footprint.
Derek Jackson is co-founder and CTO of Cyber Dive.