Your child’s digital footprint (Britmums Live)

For me, one of the most relevant and thought-provoking sessions at Britmums Live was about your child’s digital footprint. Because children have them. Sometimes from a very young age.

On average, parents share 195 photos online of their children every year before the age of 5. So that’s 1,000 photos online before they even start school. And that’s ‘normal’ people, muggles. You can be sure that most bloggers will share a lot more.

Every blogger decides for themselves how much or little they will share about their children – how big a digital footprint they will create.

There’s basically five levels:

  • No images or names at all
  • Images without identifiable faces
  • Faces, but no names
  • Faces and first names
  • Faces, full names and places

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of doing it. But bloggers should have their own ‘internal posting policy’ on their kids – and they should stick with it. It’s very easy to start off without images or names, but get drawn into using them to get offered the better ‘stuff’, in the form of reviews and sponsored posts.

When I started blogging, I was future-proofing my blog and protecting my family. I was keeping them from having a digital footprint. Although I didn’t know that’s what it was called. I hadn’t even planned to start blogging. It was something I did on a whim, four years ago. So it’s surprising I took such a sensible decision.

Because I didn’t want my children to be identified by my blog. When I started blogging, they were 10, 7 and 5. But even at that stage, I was aware that their friends could stumble across my blog and the last thing my kids needed was their friends identifying them. So I’ve never had their names or identifiable photos on the blog.

Kids, Digital footprint

This is how I do it. I think you can tell a lot about my kids and their personalities and what they like doing without showing their faces

I write a lot of nice stuff about my kids. I celebrate all their successes – in sport and academically. I write about them if they do something extra thoughtful or helpful. If you’re 13, even your mum saying something nice about you online can be embarrassing.

Not to mention the fact that I also write about them if they’ve done something bad or horrible.

Right from the start, my blog has been about the small stuff of family life – the good and the bad. I’ve always been completely honest. The only test I apply to whether I should hit publish is ‘Would I tell this to my friends in the office?’ (I devised the test back when I had friends in an office). And, believe me, there wasn’t a lot I wouldn’t tell my friends in the office.

Hayley from Downs Side Up said she never reveals which town they live in and she never says she’s on holiday – only sharing about her holiday on social media when she gets home. I’ve always stuck with these rules too.

It was suggested that if you’re too cautious and don’t post photos of your kids online, that they will turn round to you when they’re teenagers and say ‘Why aren’t there pictures of me, don’t you love me?’.

I post photos of my kids on Facebook, so I can ‘prove’ I love them – if posting something online is how we are supposed to prove our love these days. My Facebook settings are set to private.

But have I put my kids at risk? Have I unwittingly created an unwanted digital footprint for them through my own social media addiction?

So I Googled my own kids. I’d got to page 7 on Google and still hadn’t found either my eldest or my daughter. My younger son appeared on page 3, but that was in relation to the rugby club, not to me. When I added our hometown, my daughter came up 2nd – in a story in a local paper from 2010. My younger son came in first – again with the rugby club – and my eldest came up on the second page with, you guessed it, the rugby club.

I don’t mind their names appearing online after quite a precise search in relation to the local paper or the rugby club. I’m actually pretty proud they don’t appear anywhere in relation to me. But I wouldn’t expect them to. I made my ‘internal posting policy’ back in 2011, without really thinking it through and it’s absolutely been the right decision for my family.

For my next challenge, I need to think about how I tell my own story, without stopping the kids from telling their own stories when they’re ready. Plenty of bloggers with children as young as 10 or 11 are already easing up on the number of stories they share about their own children and getting their kids to read the posts before they publish. I am writing less about my teenage son and am sharing far less posts about my boys on my personal Facebook. Friends who want to read our stories still know where to look, but my boys don’t need to see my actively promoting them on Facebook.

It’s probably time for me to re-think my ‘internal posting policy’.

What’s your policy on identifying your kids online and how much of their story you will tell?

Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. Until Saturday when I saw your tweets, I posted pictures of Cheeky Chap and used his real name (first name). Your tweets made me re-think that. Not so much for his protection but for privacy, he’s not old enough to understand what I do or the implications and so I felt that perhaps I was being a little unfair. His new nickname though is more characters than his real name which is a bit frustrating when tweeting 😉 . As you say, it’s easy to start off anonymously or not identifying your children (or yourself for that matter) but it’s difficult to remain consistent, I tried on both my blogs and that’s without brands approaching me! Will need to think how I can tell my stories without telling Cheeky Chap’s! Great post, thank you.

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    • Thanks! I’m going to struggle with telling my story without telling the kids’ stories, but it’s given me something to think about. I started off being anonymous myself, but ended up failing on that!

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  2. Mine has always been non identifiable face on my blog with his pen name. I definitely have to rein myself in every now and again, I’ve recently shared “proper” photos on it. Instagram and fbook are both private but I’ve never tried googling him yet, i may do it to check!

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    • It sounds like you do very similar to me. I think with teenagers and older kids, it’s definitely the best way, but with younger children like Z they are changing so fast that the recognisable photos won’t stay recognisable for long!

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  3. Interesting and I suppose we have to be careful what we say about things as well x

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    • We certainly do! Thinking about what we say is definitely the next step for me!

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  4. Great post! It’s funny how we subconsciously create internal filters. I will use photos & videos on my blog but hardly use either child’s name. My Instagram is set to private as is my Facebook, I’m not one of those folks who update their status everyday! It’s well worth thinking about these things long term isn’t it!

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    • Thanks very much. It definitely is! What works as a toddler may not work as a tween or a teen, but once on the internet it’s there forever!

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  5. As you know, I do use my kids first names and faces, but I don’t use my real surname, and even if I did it is different to theirs anyway! Out of interest I just googled them – the teen is all over it – but none of it is from my blog – it is all her stuff – social media and her own blog – but she is 18 so that is up to her! My boys I couldn’t find at all – tho was surprised to see Syd has a name twin – his surname is very unusual but there is another one in the world – a teenage girl! Actually i couldn’t even find the boys even using Cisco as a surname, was almost surprised by that!

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    • That’s really good that you couldn’t find the boys. It’s reassuring that we’re obviously doing something right and not giving away as much as it may seem at first.

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  6. I use proper pictures and nicknames, did not want people to find them through their proper names either.
    I have seriously eased back to not using Fifi now she is nearly 13 unless she asks me to include her in something we did together. Though she had to do a news piece on an online page she liked and used the blog so the English teacher at school now knows.
    I dont tend to share horror stories unless they are abut me, my blog is the happy memories.
    I quite agree on not publicising the fact you are going on hoiday, have heard that it can invalidate your insurance if you do.
    Insightful post especially for new bloggers starting out.

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    • Thanks very much! I hadn’t thought about it being useful for new bloggers, but it definitely would be! That’s very sensible to cut back on what you write about Fifi. I must say my 13yo is the one I write about the least.
      It amazes me how many people publicise the fact they are on holiday through endless photos and status updates all over social media. It’s very silly!

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  7. I made the ‘faces but no names’ decision when I started my blog, as I didn’t want someone to google their names and find the blog. I’ve also always had a strong natural tendency to write positively (even about tougher situations) as I always ask myself if I would be happy for them to read the post when they’re older. I have also found myself cutting back on what I publish about my 9yo in the last year. I rarely post to my Facebook profile (and it’s private) and Instagram follows same rules as my blog. I didn’t go to this session, but it sounds as if it was a balanced discussion.

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    • It certainly was a balanced discussion and it sounds like you’ve got it spot-on! MY FB is private, but sometimes I think there are still too many people on there. My feeling about what I write is – they will understand it when they’re older. I want them to read even the negative posts and know that they’re coming from a place of love. And there are definitely more positive posts than negative! I’m probably writing less about my 13yo now, but my youngest is the same age as your eldest and one day I’ll have to cut back on what I write about her too!

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  8. We vlog on youtube also so we do show faces and first names. We never say our village, our last name or my husbands first name though. That’s works for us right now. If J ever wants it taken off if be happy to. I expect you can’t remove everything as it’s the internet but I try not to out any embarrassing photos on there. It is a hard decision but I kindof think sharing and community this way is positive. I write an article on Britmums about the things we do to try and make vlogging as safe as possible

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    • Very sensible never to give away your location. I would never share embarrassing photos – even on FB. When people share pics on their blogs of kids in the bath, I think that’s wrong. Yes, the photos are cute and the kids might only be small, but I dread to think who is looking at them and the sort of pleasure they might be getting from them 🙁 I wouldn’t be willing to take that risk with my own kids.

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  9. Good summary, Sarah. It was so good to have a session on this topic, at last, we need another next year looking in more depth and wouldnt it be amazing to have a young teen come and talk about their experience of their mum blogging?! I’ve become v adept at taking photos of the back of my kids too. BTW was it my comment you referred to about asking ourselves ‘Is this my story to tell?’, or have you heard others say that too? I’m interested how many others are thinking about that. The other thing I found interesting, and worrying, was the digital footprint we’re leaving for marketers about our kids by that lady from Oxford Brookes. Great post! Well done in spreading the word on this imp. topic. S

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    • Thanks very much! It probably was your comment! I can’t remember who said what, apart from Hayley’s comments, because they were just so awful that I couldn’t forget who’d said them! Would be great to get a teen there! Although preferably not my son 😉

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  10. After I saw your tweet I did a search and I couldn’t find my son, but there were pages and pages and I got bored of looking after a bit. I don’t mind saying where I live because it is such a big city, but if it was somewhere smaller, I’d think twice.

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    • If I lived in London, Birmingham or Manchester, I’d be fine with saying where I live. But I stick with ‘Gloucestershire’ on the blog. I’m sure we would find our kid eventually if we searched hundreds of pages, but I’m happy not to find mine on the first few pages.

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  11. I really wanted to go to that session, but I’m still very sore and bruised and a bit delicate, and the room was just too full for me to join in. I think in some ways I’m incredibly fortunate in that my older children have been publicly on the internet since they were small, so over the last 14 years I’ve had plenty of time to assess internet safety. As photos and links have become more prolific, I had a natural fear of new stuff and held back a bit, and I must have done okay because none of the kids are embarrassed about anything that you can find that didn’t come from them or their own mates! Since starting The Brick Castle obviously I’ve okayed everything with my teenagers, and unthinkingly naturally have also offered the same respect to my younger children.
    I never share when I’m away, school, exact location or full names, but I am always well aware that actually, if someone wants to find these things out and were determined, they probably could. With that in mind I chose to start the blog, I think it has to be a decision you make with your eyes open. If you post it on the internet anywhere, then people will read it, and they won’t all be your friends.

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    • That last sentence is very true! We are all taking a bit of a risk – not just bloggers, but everyone who uses social media. I think it’s great that you OK everything with your kids and I really need to start doing that myself, while accepting that I will probably not be able to blog quite as prolifically as I do now!

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  12. Wow what an interesting and thought provoking session and post. I do share pictures and also names (first names but to be honest you can guess our surname by my blog name). I share more pictures of the 9 year old rather than the 12 year old, and I really need to have a think about this going forward as they get older. Definitely food for thought xx

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    • It certainly is! I naturally blog less about my eldest, but I do still blog about him. And one day my 9yo will be 14 too, so will I have to give up altogether?!

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  13. Such an important topic. I also do no faces, no names, no locations, and only talk about holidays when we’re home. But I need to think more about the stories I tell. I don’t think they’ll be impressed in later years to read stories about their potty training misadventures… And perhaps The Girl would not be so amused that I gave her a voice before she could speak, but then carried on speaking on her behalf on the blog, putting words into her mouth… Shame, because it’s so funny.:(

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    • It is VERY funny. It would be sad to see The Girl’s voice disappear from your blog. I think potty training misadventures are quite valid blog material, as long as the child is 2/3, not 8/9! I appreciate some things happen late for some children, but that’s not the sort of thing it’s fair to share with the world.

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  14. A very inerestingt post. I just googled my children to check and thankfully nothing from my blog came up.

    My daughters full name and school is however mentioned in a magazine she did, but then someone would have to know her full name first to be able to google her and as she has dabbled in modelling and wants to be and actress I’m pretty sure she’s ok with her photos being out there!

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    • It sounds like she would be fine with it! There’s a time and place where it’s acceptable for this information to be and a time where it isn’t! It’s a relief to find there’s nothing on Google connecting your kids to your blog.

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  15. Such a great summary of the digital footprint session – it certainly left me with a lot of food for thought about how much I share and why I’m blogging. I use my children’s first names – mostly because I started blogging to share our family’s journey after my daughter’s heart condition was diagnosed and it was a way to keep family and friends and those who were praying for her updated with how she was getting on. I know from experience of reading other heart family blogs that having that personal story does make a difference when you’re trying to find other people whose journeys you can relate to. Britmums overall has made me realise that I need to take a step back and refocus on it all though.

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  16. We all think we are pretty savvy as bloggers but this session really got me thinking. Your summary is something all parents who post should read Sarah. Lovely to meet you again at BML.

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  17. This probably would have been a session that I would have made a bee-line for too. How interesting. I really take my hat off to you for not including pics of your kids (well not faces anyway). I never include names but I would be interested to see what comes up if I punch it in. Hang on, off to check! Well my eldest comes up on some pet forum (name but no pictures) and the other two don’t appear anywhere. Not sure whether to be proud or disappointed ha ha!

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  18. I missed this session at BritMums Live so thanks for writing this. It’s a really interesting topic. I show pics of my girl but no real names. The holiday thing is more tricky as I’m a travel blogger but am always pretty vague on location. I would hope my girl embraces it all when she’s older… If not I guess she can just pretend it’s not her… The way technology is moving children are going to be online far more – who knows what the future holds. Xx

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  19. Sarah,
    Thanks for the advice.

    Beware of:
    Revealing personal info about your family via metadata on images.
    People who know you IRL revealing personal info about your family via comments on your postings.

    Perhaps these points were dealt with at Britmums Live?

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  20. A brilliant post Sarah and something that does need to be considered when you are online like we all are. I watched an American video last year which showed how an average person with a little digital knowhow could literally trace not only a child’s home address but the places they liked to shop and eat, where their friends lived, where they went to school and it went on. It was such an eye opener for me. I regularly check the Google listings and I do worry about the photos online. I very rarely use their real names online and I am glad that they are only on distant Google pages. As they get older, I also talk to them about what I am doing as I don’t want to upset them. I have noticed that as R is getting older, he often asks me not to include him in things as a lot of his friends are online and he doesn’t want them to see and that is fair enough.

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  21. It was an excellent session and really thought-provoking. I’m almost at the other extreme – I share a lot of factual information about my kids but I’m a little more cautious what I say about them, which means I’m a little more wary of sharing some of the bad or embarrassing stuff. (I apply the ‘grandmother test’ – if I wouldn’t want my mother to see something, I don’t publish it.)

    I know that level of openness is something many would frown upon – and I am not unaware that this comes with a small but tangible level of risk – but that’s the decision I’ve made, I have my own rules and I stick by them.

    Having said that, the one thing that did occur to me was that, if you are in any way uncertain how much to safeguard your children’s identity, ALWAYS err on the side of caution. You can always relax your rules later on, but once data is out there about you and your family the genie is well and truly out of the bottle – you cannot take it back, at least not easily. There has been a lot of talk in tech circles about people’s ‘right to be forgotten’ (i.e. erasing their digital footprint), and while it can be done it is both far from easy and not necessarily foolproof.

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  22. This session sounded really interesting but I didn’t manage to get to this one. Lots of things to think about here. I agree about not sharing when we are away/on holiday until a while after we get back. I started off by trying to keep my children’s names and faces out of my blog but it ended up being too much hard work! Now, I put their faces on but not their names. I’m just about to google them now… x

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