Digital Footprints: At what point do kids start calling the shots?

MY TURN! SOURCE: Belinda Pretorius

This week in our ECI 830 class, we had a captivating debate that asked the question: Is openness and sharing in schools unfair to our kids? The debate brought up questions about student privacy, responsible online citizenship and the permanence of our digital footprint.

Some questions and ideas came out of this discussion that got me thinking about some of the big issues we’re dealing with today involving online citizenship. For one, our “digital” tattoos, as Juan Enriquez discusses in his TED TALK, are not only permanent, but they are integral to the way others perceive us. Employers for example, can use social media to pick the best candidates for the job based off online profiles or a simple Google search of your name. If you’ve ever posted a racist or insensitive Tweet, or your Facebook profile is revealing a little too much about your party life, it can definitely come back to haunt you. Websites such as the “Wayback Machine”, are quick reminders that our online actions are quite permanent. We really can’t forget that whatever we do online, stays online.

As many problems that arise from online citizenship and sharing, it’s not all bad either. For example, classroom blogs are able to make sharing what’s going on in your classroom easy AND accessible to parents. Parents can keep track of student assignments and keep up with school news. Some of my coworkers who are parents themselves have mentioned how great it is that their kids’ teachers are using social media to stay connected with them. One coworker in particular raves about this, as she’s been able to see her kids receive awards at school on numerous occasions, during times where she simply couldn’t leave work.

I’ve given this topic a lot of thought and one of the biggest questions that keeps coming up is “what is the student’s role in online sharing and digital citizenship inside and outside of the classroom?” The only time I really think it’s unfair to post things online on behalf of a student is when the child is unaware that it’s happening. Just like us, kids deserve to know and choose the things that are being posted about them.


As I was reading through some of my classmates’ blogs this week, one post really jumped at me. My colleague Justine mentioned how she set up individual blogs for all the students in her grade 2 classroom. I think this is a very modern approach to teaching; it’s great to see someone take such inspiring initiative to teach digital citizenship to such a young group of students. Here’s one of my favorite exerts from her entry this week:

“When the family talked to their child he was nervous about videos and audio being posted on the blog, but was excited about writing posts and having pictures posted. I would never want a child to do something that he or she is uncomfortable with. I was very proud of him! His parents did sign off that part of the parent permission form in case he changed his mind and they knew that I would respect their son’s wishes.”

Starting at a younger age means kids are learning to make choices and participate in the construction of their own online identities. But what happens from the time they are born, to when they are finally able to make their own online choices?

Although being able to share pictures of our newborns with friends and family is one of the perks of being on social media, the question of whether or not parents are over-sharing does come up. At what point should parents stop sharing, and at what point do kids start calling the shots? Even more importantly, WHAT should parents be sharing and WHO should they be sharing with? Articles such as this one point out some of the bad habits that come out of oversharing online and how it can affect parenting.

Did you really just post that picture of me mom? I told you to post the GOOD ONE! Ugh!

At this day and age, it’s incredibly important for parents and teachers to take students’ digital footprints into full consideration. Our new generations are being born straight into the online world; their entire lives are being documented on social media from the moment they are born. Kids should have the choice as to what they do online and what gets shared about them. As Justine mentioned in her experiences blogging with her students, all the parents and children had to sign a permission slip before participating in the classroom blogs. I think it’s important to remember that regardless of how old kids are, parents (and teachers) need to model responsible online citizenship and be aware of what sort of digital footprint they are creating for their children.

This week, I asked all my students (ranging from grade 4 to 8) about their online habits. This included whether or not they use social media and what sort of measures they take to stay safe online. I noticed that the majority of my students who are on social media are mostly in grade 5 to 8. When asked about online safety and privacy, all of my students claim to keep their online profiles locked and set on private. Most of them are quite aware of the dangers that exist online and seem to have quite a good understanding of what should and shouldn’t be shared online, and what to do to keep their profiles set on private at all times. Although I didn’t conduct a formal survey, I did get a good idea of what they know. The funny thing is, my grade 7/8’s seemed rather annoyed at a lot of my “tips”, telling me that they’ve known these things for years. This to me might be the most valuable observation I made. Perhaps we need to stop assuming our kids know nothing about online safety, and start giving them a little more credit. If anything, I think teachers and parents (and any older generations really) are the ones that need to be educated the most.

A quick Google search can bring up a plethora of online tips for parents and teachers to become better acquainted with their digital footprints. Websites such as this one can give us a quick rundown of some of the important things we should always keep in mind online.

Before I wrap things up this week, I’d like to end with a few questions. What ages do you guys think students should be learning to be online citizens? What sort of information can we be giving parents about their children’s digital footprints? Should we be teaching them anything at all? What sort of rights should kids have as far as what sort of information is shared about them?

Thanks for reading everyone, and I hope you all have a great weekend!



13 thoughts on “Digital Footprints: At what point do kids start calling the shots?”

  1. Great post Andres! You’ve brought up several great points. I think that students should always give their consent before posting pictures/videos/work samples online. I think that by asking students each time, you’re also indicating to students that they have an active role in shaping their own digital footprint. I teach grade 2 and my students are very capable of learning about digital citizenship. I think this should start as early as K or grade 1, as we’re well aware students are engaging with technology this early.


    1. I love what you said there: “you’re also indicating to students that they have an active role in shaping their own digital footprint”. I couldn’t agree more and you definitely articulated that way better than I did! I honestly think the sooner the better, especially now that that’s what our entire world revolves around. Thanks for the reply Erin, I always like hearing what others are doing in their own classrooms.


  2. Great post Dre. I agree with you that the only time there is an issue with posting student work is when that student or parent of the student is unaware. Sharing of material online is a great way of staying connected with parents and guardians. I am not one that uses posting in my classroom, but will definitely be looking into this in future years or even the last month of this year


    1. It takes a while to get used to posting on a regular basis, but now that we’ve got apps for our phones, updating a classroom blog is getting way easier now. I’m no master at this, I’m so far from it, but it’s great to learn about it because it’s definitely giving me the drive to change how my classroom works and uses tech. Thanks for the reply carter.


  3. Great post, buddy. I like your point about teachers keeping parents updated on social media. When I read what you said about discussing social media with students, I can’t help but be reminded of a meme that went around for a while. I won’t repost it here because I don’t want to propogate it, but it was a picture of a teacher sitting at a computer that was hooked into a projector, looking at a racy photo of a young girl, and it was showing up on the screen. A disciplinary committee went after the teacher, and found out after the fact that he was actually giving a lesson on social media security. A girl in his class claimed her social media was all secured, and a quick google had brought up the image. In trying to make a point about the openness of social media, he was the victim of a social media witch hunt. Was his lesson necessarily a good idea? Without context, hard to tell, but in the meantime, it’s a reminder of the risks we all take in being teacher.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah man I know exactly what meme you’re talking about. Again, this is a good indication as to what we say and do in our classroom can get out of context. Like most things, actions and words can get twisted and manipulated to make a situation look much different than what it really is. Thanks for bringing that to light Steve, I mean, it’s definitely an important angle to always keep in mind, especially since most kids have phones now and they are always trying to capture us at the worst moment.


  4. Your points about consent really stuck with me! Perhaps the more consent we give our students, starting at a young age, the more we are teaching about the importance of responsibility and accountability in digital citizenship. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely agree. I mean at the end of the day, they’re in charge of the way their footprint develops. By not giving them control, were allowing others to do it for them, which is completely unfair.


  5. Good thoughts Dre. I think it’s a valid point you bring up as far as consent for students digital identities. I thought it was interesting that the older students are already feeling as if they’ve heard all the tips already. In some ways I feel this is a good sign that we are starting to make a difference and that we need to love to deeper discussions about online identity. Thanks for sharing.


    1. To be honest that was one of the best moments I’ve had in a while. A tad ironic, but it’s comforting to know that most kids are fully aware of the realities the Internet holds. It goes without saying that it doesn’t stop there though. They may be aware of the dangers and risks, but we still need to be able to support them in times of need where they may need someone they can trust. Again, just keeping up with tech, online trends and talking to students on the regular are some of the keys to success.


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