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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Growing Up Online

By Tracey Dowdy

Americans must be 16 to drive, 18 to vote and 21 to drink, yet some are tweeting before they can talk. Instead of scrapbooks filled with photos, locks of hair from a first haircut, and finger-painted masterpieces, some parents are creating social media accounts for their children. In fact according to a study from Scholastic Parent and Child, more than 80 percent of children under the age of two have a digital profile. Some parents go as far as creating the profile even before the child is born, documenting the pregnancy or adoption journey.

Parents need to be mindful that they are creating a digital footprint much larger than those tiny newborn feet and, like everything else on the Internet, once it’s out there, it’s out there forever. So what’s a parent to do? Should you let your child determine their own digital footprint or should you register that domain name as soon as that plus sign shows up on your Clear Blue Easy test?

As with any social media presence, the first concern should be privacy. Although in some ways it seems as though we’ve been online forever, we’re still in the early days. And if we learned anything from Mr. Snowden, it’s that the definition of “privacy” varies depending on who you ask.

Some have chosen to create email accounts, as they are generally more secure and less public a forum than say Facebook or Tumblr. Family members and close friends can contribute, and at some point in the future, parents will give the child access to the account. Other parents go a step further and create custom urls or domain names for their children.

A second consideration is marketing. Although Twitter doesn’t have an age limit, Facebook does (13+). In order to create an account in the child’s name, parents would need to lie about their child’s age. This opens up the possibility that your child’s information could be shared with third party advertisers and thus targeted for marketing based on online activity.

Even if they don’t create specific accounts, lots of parents blog about their family and experiences. "There are a number of quite successful viral videos that involve people filming their children. So there's definitely a sense that this is – if not normal – considered to be acceptable behavior." says Matthew Johnson, director of education for MediaSmarts.

Let’s face it, by the time our children are parents themselves, life will be lived online to an even greater extent than it is today. This generation will have grown up online and will have an extensive digital history. Our own children use our iPads, laptops and tablets to play games, watch movies, and are more tech savvy by kindergarten than we are as adults.

No matter if you’re creating a separate online identity for your child or simply posting their photos to your Facebook page, it’s important to start thinking about it early. In the words of Liz Gumbinner, editor in chief, coolmomtech.com, “It’s the start of a conversation…Parents have this fear about their children being online too early. But I feel like that’s really a generational thing, because this is a generation that’s going to grow up without any other option.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, Ontario. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.

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