Most of these digital artifacts sit untouched until parents think their children are ready — but some parents are using them in the meantime. Matt Maguire, 40, made email addresses for his children, Sophie, 9, and Emerson, 5, a few months before they were born. He sends them messages documenting their childhoods that he plans to share as a kind of digital scrapbook when the time is right.
So far, Emerson has accumulated 601 emails from her father and other family members. For Sophie, that number is 1,198. It will be a heartfelt gift when the time comes, but one that requires some maintenance. According to its policy, Google may remove all of your content from any accounts that have been inactive for two years. Parents holding onto Gmail accounts, and the messages inside them, will need to ensure that they are logging in often enough to keep them afloat.
But starting a child’s digital footprint at a young age raises some privacy concerns. While email accounts are not public-facing, the ethics become tricky when parents begin posting pictures of their children to social media, said Stephen Balkam, the founder of the nonprofit Family Online Safety Institute, which works with leaders in government and tech businesses to promote internet safety for children and families. “If you do want to upload photographs, keep it tight,” he said.
A majority of policies governing when children in the United States can use social media platforms are based on the regulations set by Congress in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits websites from collecting information on users younger than 13 without parental permission. Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube and TikTok require users in the United States to be at least 13 to sign up for an account. On Instagram, any children younger than that age must clearly state in their bio that the account is managed by a parent or manager.
But as with any issues related to parenthood, Dr. Corry said, caregivers should expect the unexpected when the time comes to relinquish control of their children’s social media accounts. “It’s maybe creating an identity that your child isn’t going to identify with,” she said. “Would that parent be OK with their child taking those accounts that they’re being handed and deleting everything? That’s one possible outcome.”
Ms. Moylan already plans to wipe her children’s Instagram accounts before they inherit them. “You’re not going to want to be 17, and if somebody scrolls back far enough, it’s you in a diaper,” she said.