As a parent today it is likely that you made your first mark on the internet 15 years ago. When your name is typed into an online search, there is a good chance that a social media profile will pop up; your latest tweets, perhaps your Facebook profile picture and maybe your LinkedIn account. Imagine if your digital footprint had started as a child, and imagine how different this search would look today. Your children’s digital footprint can start before they begin to walk and follow them around for life. As a parent, you are responsible for what has become known as your child’s ‘digital footprint’, or ‘digital shadow’.

Today’s technology means children can have a social media presence before they are old enough in the eyes of the law to have a say on whether or not they want one.

One important trend we have observed through our work at Zeeko, is that when children go online they are increasingly going mobile. We know from the Zeeko All Ireland Digital Trend Report that tablets are now the most commonly used device amongst primary school children in Ireland. The danger with this trend is that children can be accessed by strangers or bullies anytime, anywhere. This is coupled with the ever-increasing popularity of Wi-Fi enabled devices, e.g. iPods, iPads and Xbox consoles. Wi-Fi enabled devices, allow children to access online games with chat functions, social networking sites and chat apps.

The age children engage with the internet today is getting much younger. Children in 3rd class enjoy a variety of online activities, including watching videos, playing games, searching for information, doing their homework and socialising within virtual worlds. YouTube remains the most popular online activity amongst all age categories, although the range of activities increases with age. As children reach 4th, 5th and 6th classes, they begin to interact with social media sites and chat apps. Examples of these include Instagram and Snapchat.

So what is the best way to talk to your child about their digital footprint? At Zeeko we have a mantra we repeat when it comes to a digital footprint, which is: Treat the Internet like a Noticeboard!

Generally speaking what we post on the internet cannot be easily removed or deleted. This is true for social networks, chat apps and photo sharing sites. At both our parent crash courses and when we visit schools to talk to children about internet safety, we encourage parents and children to ask themselves a question before they post something online. ‘Would I post this on a public noticeboard?’

When something is going to be published publically, we do think about that a little differently. `Given their age and maturity, children don’t always think about the consequences of their actions, for example that something that they are posting now can remain online and cannot always be removed. However if they think of the internet as a noticeboard they may view posting online a little differently.

The Zeeko Internet Safety Guide offers further information and advice on Your Child’s Digital Footprint along with other elements of internet safety. Find out more about buying the book on our website .

You may also like to attend one of our Parent Crash Courses on internet safety taking place on 27th February and 23rd of April 2016.

Keep up to date with our work at Zeeko by following us on our social media channels.