Why we gave our baby a digital identity

There are many posts and articles already written about “oversharing”, giving a digital identity to babies, creating a digital trust for your newborn and the right to privacy of kids. Before I wrote my posts, I asked why should I write another one. As I continued to research the topic, I failed to find my viewpoint in all those posts. I decided to share my side of the story.

I want to start the discussion with the fact that many things will have impact on a kid’s development and will shape who that kid will become as an adult. Our parent actions have always been one of them. I approach social media as one more component to the equation.

Let me go back 50 years ago. My French-speaking parents named me Kim. It is worth mentioning because I lived in a small regional town where people only spoke French. Until I was 12 or 13 years old, many kids at school commented that my name was weird because they never heard of it before. I always replied that I loved my name. I still do! Having a special name, having entrepreneurs as parents, living in the biggest house of our neighbourhood, missing 2 weeks of school every winter to travel around the world, all that contributed to who I am today. These were all based on decisions that my parents took for me. Even if they didn’t share them on Facebook, the impacts of their decisions were public.

Our son has geeks as parents. This is a part of who we are. He might not know it yet but he is surrounded with tech gadgets. We embrace the digital revolution with open hands. My husband and I are both users and makers of digital products. We are part of the Generation C: the connected consumer, as described in this article by Brian Solis.

We are a part of the generation for which it feels natural to share. But we share with restrain, with conscience and with respect of people emotion. When it comes to our private life, we share fun activities, places we visit and happy moments. Nothing go online that we will be ashamed in the future.

How we manage our son’s digital presence reflects our personal values. My husband and I set the rules together. We both agree on how we will do it. Yes, being two digital geeks simplified the discussion but even if it is not your case, it should not stop you from having this important talk with your partner.

For us, the most important talk about my son’s digital identity took place at the hospital. Special circumstances meant that we had to do it sooner than later. When I learned that Zack’s birth became a #1 trend on Twitter for Montreal, we had to take a decision about how to handle it. It was evident that people would ask us more questions about our new baby boy. The thing is that our son’s birth came with a huge worry; our son was going to have an open-heart surgery in the following days. My pregnancy was not a secret but only our family and a few close friends knew about his condition.

We decided to say the truth with a brief announcement. Two months later, I wrote a post about how communicating a little bit about his heart condition to our Facebook friends helped us during that difficult time.

A few days after his birth, we opened a Twitter account for our son. We tweeted in his name a little at first. We did it to chronicle some meaningful events. That was a phase. When we want to refer to him by name, it comes handy that he already has a Twitter handle. We use his Twitter handle when we want to leave him a digital trace of our tweets. This way, he would be able to read our old messages when he gets older. We figure out that, similar to watching family videos and photos where he sees what he did or what we did, he would like to explore what we said about him and our family life through our tweets.

It is about sharing our values

I can’t tell if we would act differently today if people wouldn’t have been as supportive and care about having news from Zack. I honestly doubt that because what we share online feels natural to us. Many of my tweets and statuses are more than about my son, they are about my values. When I mentioned on Foursquare that my son enjoyed a bowl of miso soup and grilled sardine at a small Japanese restaurant, I also make a case to be more adventurous when it comes to toddler’s food.

When my son will be old enough to understand it, we will teach him how to manage his digital identity. We will teach him that there are things that you share publicly, things that should be shared only with acquaintances, others that you share only with your close friends and others that you keep out of the digital world. I believe that you could learn more about the grey areas with actual examples. When our son gets older, what we shared online about him and wrote in his name will serve not only as a chronicle of memories from his childhood but also as a starting point to discuss what and what not to do.

At the end of the day, giving our son a digital identity at birth reflects who his parents are, our values and the way we live. It is a part of the education and the legacy we want to leave him. By being conscious about what we put online on his name, I don’t think he will resent us. I have also written this post for him to understand why we did it.

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  • Regis
    Posted November 12, 2013 at 18:34 0Likes

    Hi Kim,

    Great to read your thoughts on this topic. I am also a geek dad but I have a different approach. I agree with you that leaving our children digitals trails will allow them to better understand us. I do that too but I do it all in private, I’m not using social networks because I want my child to build her digital history herself in other words, I don’t want to talk for her or about her in public. Public includes private groups. I will teach her how to understand what I know from the digital word and then she will choose what she wants to do.

    I will especially highlight what is not often told to kids (and parents) :

    – the influence of screens on us
    – the benefits and disadvantages of digital
    – the benefits and disadvantages of pre-digital
    – the business and marketing models behind the major products and services

    This said, your case is different as mine and your son’s early condition may have influenced the way you approach his digital life. Do you think you would have done the same without this early condition?

    I am sure that using social networks dedicated to health or more generic as Facebook or Twitter can be a big help for the family and/or the patient. I still remember how Howard Rheingold shared his cancer on Twitter using a dedicated account @rheingoldsbutt. I have other friends who shared such issues online and really got over it thanks to online social networks.

    Again, I appreciate you sharing about the subject and I am open to discuss more about the topic with you and Jerome online or offline.


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