In today's age, children don't just inherit genes from their parents, many inherit a digital identity as well. While social media and digital technologies have changed over the years, the parental responsibility to protect the dignity of our children has not. Parental influence on their child's identity is not new; let us not forget about the identity we inherit from our parents offline as well. While some may express concern about digital identities being created for children before they can create one of the their own, I would hope that they have the same degree of concern for the offline identities parents shape for their children as well. The obligation parents have to protect the dignity of their children is imperative both offline AND online.
I'm a parent. I post a lot of pictures of my child on Facebook, and therefore, her digital identity has been developing. I can say that it is a digital identity that I personally believe she can be proud of, as it respects her dignity. She's not yet old enough to understand what a digital identity is, and therefore, my husband and I make loving and responsible decisions about what we share and what we do not share. That being said, as our daughter matures, she will be 100% involved in the decision-making process concerning her digital identity. I believe that this proactive approach models good digital citizenship for children from their earliest years, which in turn forms natural habit.
Consider a scenario where a parent does not create a digital identity for their child; never posting a picture, a story, etc. I wonder what the impact of that decision would be in our digital age. Would the child question why the vast majority of their peers have a digital identity and they do not? Would a parent miss valuable opportunities to model and engage in conversations with their child about digital citizenship from a young age?
Returning to the responsibilities of parents, the practice of seeking permission before posting a photo/story, which KJ Del'Antonia discusses in her blog post, I believe is very important. Not only does it involve children and allow them to exercise choice concerning their digital identity, it will likely instill in them the courtesy to ask others for their permission as well before sharing on their social media. I think it is also important to allow children "veto" rights… if my daughter ever asks me to remove a picture I have shared of her, I will always respect that decision. Ultimately, as parents we need to understand that we "are creating a digital history for a human being that will follow him or her for the rest of their life." Key questions to ask are, "What kind of footprint do you actually want to start for your child, and what will they think about the information you’ve uploaded in future?" My classmate, Adam Scott Williams, expresses similar sentiments, in saying, "We as parents just need to be careful and considerate of our children and their future selves." In actuality, this all boils down to good parenting.
Transferring this concept to the classroom, George Couros has written an excellent blog post about the importance for teachers to have student permission before sharing photos on their Twitter accounts about the learning that is taking place in their classrooms. This is something that I strongly believe in, and it was affirming to see someone post such a well-written article expressing the same sentiments. As teachers, we often think that the simple media release form signed by parents is enough… but is it? Perhaps legally it is, but what about ethically? For instance, as Couros points out, "Each day is different and there are days where maybe a student is not up for you sharing their picture to the world." Furthermore, we generally don't allow students to snap pictures of us without our permission, so why should it be any different for them? As Jimmy Casas (as cited by Couros) says, "What we model is what we get."
Ultimately, we, as teachers, must model and teach about sound digital citizenship, as this is not always modeled and taught at home. Perhaps our modelling and educating about digital citizenship in schools will empower children whose parents have not been very responsible in forming their digital identities to have discussions with their parents about what they are comfortable with sharing.
Teacher & Tech Coach with Regina Catholic Schools. Passion for EdTech, 21st century student-centered pedagogy, connected learning & differentiated instruction. Grad student.