The Digital Self

Exploring the complications, conveniences, and conflicts that technology presents in personal and professional relationships.

Digital Natives: Growing Up Online

Creating a digital footprint for your child.

Children today have a digital life from the moment they are in utero. When that first image or text appears for a person online this is referred to as their digital birth. A study commissioned by Internet security company AVG has found that children are beginning to have a presence online before some of them are even born. The study found that in the US almost a third of children (34%) have a digital birth that is before their actual birth date, a result of parents posting sonograms online. The study also reported that world wide 81% of children under the age of two already have a digital profile or 92% in the United States.


And then their digital lives continue to grow with each birthday as new photos are posted and YouTube videos are put up for friends and family to view. As they start school and other extra-curricular activities, photos and videos of each and every event are posted on the web: science fair projects, a 4th place soccer tournament triumph, a pop-song he sang or a sonata she played on the piano.

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I think about how to maintain a balance between my "digital life" and my "non-digital life"; however, for kids today, one's digital life is simply- life. Adolescents who are now 16 and 17 were born during the commercial launch of the World Wide Web in 1995. They have witnessed countless pop culture stars, such as Justin Bieber, attaining fame through YouTube. They have digitally witnessed and participated in national and international revolutions. With the 2012 Presidential election, they will have a chance to participate in "American Elect," the first nonpartisan presidential nomination, voting will occur via the Internet.

This blog entry is not meant to frighten parents, but rather, as with all Digital Self postings, to encourage thought.

• What kind of digital footprint do you actually want to create for your child?

• What will they think about the information you've uploaded when they are adolescents or adults? Do you remember how you felt (pride or horror) when your parents ran to unearth the family photo album as you introduced a new boyfriend/girlfriend?

• To the family, a funny tantrum might seem hysterical and amusing. However, it might appear differently to that preschool you are trying to enroll your child at.

Talk show host Jimmy Kimmel recently asked parents to play a joke on their children: tell them that you ate all of their Halloween candy and post their reaction on YouTube! After reading the posts of viewers, it is true that most find the videos hysterical. A few of the children displayed some strong reactions: throwing items at their parents, punching a wall, telling their father that he is ugly. However, what will these children think of these public videos in 10 years? When does the child's privacy become theirs? Might those adorable videos and photos of your daughter splashing in the bathtub embarrass her when she's older? Or worse- be utilized for future taunting from a peer?

Even if you remove a photo or video, someone may have already downloaded it and could use it in the future. If you decide that you want a posting removed there is a service that can monitor your public Internet life and assist in removing unwanted information. Reputation.com is a fee-based service that searches out negative content and then proceeds to remove the content from searched sites.

Who knows, your child might grow up to become a psychologist, wanting to keep their private life as just that: private.

 

Tamara J. Hicks, Psy.D., is co-founder of Potrero Hill Psychotherapy in San Francisco and provides psychotherapy to adults, children, couples, and families.

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