April 14, 2014

Your child’s digital identity

2 minutes
Advice for host families

Within the last few years, more and more parents are creating ‘digital trust funds’ for their kids. In 2012, more than 80 percent of children under the age of two have a digital profile due to their parents. This can include anything from reserving domain names, Twitter and Facebook handles, or e-mail accounts of your child’s name so by the time they are old enough to access these accounts, they’ll control their own online identity in their own name in our increasingly digital and search-oriented world.

Google kickstarted the trend of babies owning email addresses in their viral ad campaign for Chrome, which topped the list of the Top 10 TV Ads of 2011. In this commercial inspired by a true story, a father named Daniel Lee created a Gmail account for his daughter Sophie and documents her life’s milestones by sending her emails with notes, videos, and photographs—it’s a tearjerker!

Owning your child’s moniker as online real estate can help them market themselves in the future (and relatively cheap for $5-$20 a year) and also help boost your child’s page in searches (because the page will be as old as your child is.) Some parents will go so far as actress Tori Spelling, who set up a twitter account for her 5-year-old son, which currently has over 47,400 followers! She tweets his quotes on his behalf, like “I want to be a grown up! Gown ups take lunches and own cats.”

However, some question the extent of control parents are actually giving their children. Amy Webb wrote a piece for Slate about why she will post absolutely nothing about her child online. Webb acknowledges that social media enables parents’ desire to capture their children’s ephemeral childhood moments and helps family members and friends keep in touch. But she argues that with every Facebook photo someone uploads of their child, algorithms will analyze the people around them, the references made to them in posts, and over time will determine their most likely inner circle, preventing them from any hope of future anonymity.

When she sees her friend post photo after photo and status after status about her daughter, “Kate” Webb goes so far to argue that this lack of digital anonymity will affect her socially years down the line. “With every status update, YouTube video, and birthday blog post, Kate’s parents are preventing her from any hope of future anonymity… That poses some obvious challenges for Kate’s future self… Why make hundreds of embarrassing, searchable photos freely available to her prospective homecoming dates?”

Webb’s solution was create a digital trust fund for her daughter but not add any content to these active, but private accounts until her daughter is mature enough to handle her master password and create her own digital identity with her own consent.

In the ever-evolving digital world, there are no right answers. What’s your stance on sharing your children’s lives online? Have you made a digital trust fund for your kids? Let us know in the comments below!