Teaching Youth the Importance of Protecting Their Digital Footprint

Article Cybersecurity
Digita Footprint Youth

An individual’s digital footprint is the trail of data left behind while on the Internet and is based on all of their different online activities and the virtual interactions they engage in over time. This trail of online activity can have long-lasting implications on a user’s privacy, security, reputation, and even future professional and personal opportunities—making it critical for them to be mindful of their behavior online and their virtual representation of themselves. Over time, a user’s digital footprint includes:

  • Online Activities: Browsing habits, websites visited, subscriptions, etc.
  • Social Media: Updates, photos, videos, comments, shares, and even likes on other contact’s posts.
  • Communications: Emails, instant messages, and comments made on forums and discussion boards.
  • Search History: Searches performed on search engines can be recorded.
  • Digital Transactions: Online transactions, purchases made on e-commerce websites, etc.
  • Metadata: Information embedded in digital files, photos, and documents, including timestamps and geolocation data.

Recent studies show that 96% of teenagers report using the Internet daily, with 46% reporting being on the Internet almost constantly. As youth access the Internet, it is important for them to understand just how much impact their daily activities, social media posts, etc., can have down the road, and why they should manage their digital footprint carefully.

Talking to students and children at an early age about this is strongly recommended. Some items to communicate to your students/children include:

  • Review Privacy Settings
    Teach students how to adjust privacy settings on social media platforms and other online accounts to better control who can see their posts and personal data.
  • Emphasize Critical Thinking
    Remind them to think critically about what they are about to post and the potential consequences. Make sure they are considering what would happen if a post was shared publicly and how others may perceive their comments.
  • Avoid Oversharing
    Discuss why sensitive information should not be shared online. Sharing data like addresses, phone numbers, financial information, class schedules, etc., can be risky.
  • Teach Digital Citizenship/Responsible Behavior
    Reinforce that online etiquette is a direct reflection of their personal character. Cyberbullying, invasions of privacy online, and posting inappropriate content can be damaging to others, as well as to their own reputation in the future, and even bring legal consequences. Teach students to be respectful and responsible online, as well as how to report negative online behavior if witnessed.

Below are a few ways that a digital footprint can impact future opportunities:

  • Professional Career
    Employers conduct online research on job applications and your online footprint can influence hiring decisions. Whereas your professional profile and content can enhance your credibility and increase your hiring chances, prior posts that could be considered inappropriate or unprofessional can potentially cost you those same opportunities.
  • Higher Education
    College admissions officers and scholarship committees often review applicant’s online profiles as part of the evaluation process. Controversial content or activities can raise concerns and negatively affect your chances of acceptance.
  • Personal Relationships
    Online activities influence how others perceive you. Friends and associates will form opinions based on your online activity and interactions, and they may judge you poorly.
  • Financial Matters
    Financial institutions and loaners may even consider online behaviors when reviewing credit or eligibility for loans. You can also put yourself at risk for potential identity theft or fraud through compromised accounts by sharing too much personal information online or visiting risky websites.
  • Legal Concerns
    Illegal or questionable activity conducted online can even result in legal consequences. Reinforcing that there are real consequences for inappropriate behaviors online is critical.

Promote continued awareness with students about the potential risks and consequences of the actions they take online. It is also important to empower them to take control of their digital footprint by providing tools and strategies for managing online activities responsibly.

It is impossible to shelter them from the Internet, so instead encourage safe and acceptable usage, promote positive contributions, and monitor online activities. Equip them with the tools needed to better navigate and manage their accounts to help shape future perceptions of others.


About the Author
Katie Johnson

Katie Johnson


Manager, Operations Support

As the manager of Operations Support, Katie leads the team responsible for supporting and delivering CampusGuard services including online training, vulnerability scanning, and the CampusGuard Central® portal. With over 15 years of experience in information security awareness training, Katie is also the Product Lead for CampusGuard’s online training services. As a Senior Customer Relationship Manager for a limited number of customers, Katie assists organizations with their information security and compliance programs and is responsible for coordinating the various teams involved.