Your Digital Tattoo – Do You Know What it Looks Like or How to Design One?

By CUE Member Adina Sullivan @adinasullivan

CC Flickr handkasteel

CC Flickr handkasteel

By some estimates, humans have been tattooing themselves for 5,200 years. Today, many kids have tattoos before they even have teeth. The difference is that these tattoos are the online image they have online. While educators have talked for years about digital footprints. I prefer the term digital tattoo. Footprints can be erased or covered up. The digital impressions we all leave online can never be completely erased or covered up, just like a tattoo.

Think about all the mistakes you made in your youth. Where’s the evidence of that now? Chances are that those mistakes are either only in our (faulty) memories or completely forgotten. The mistakes students make today are more often online and therefore, more permanent. This can result in anything from mild embarrassment to more serious issues, including the impression universities and business may have of students once they leave the K-12 world.

Now is a great time to think about how to address those critical thinking skills and actions necessary to build a digital tattoo students will be proud of, today and in the future.

Here are some of the ways we can all support positive student digital images:


  • Social Media – Be aware that once it’s online or even just sent from your phone to someone else, it should be considered permanent. Even sending something through apps like Snapchat isn’t entirely safe. It’s easy to take a screenshot of that image. Along with connecting to friends, use social media to connect to experts or others in a subject area you are interested in.
  • Blog Posts and Responses – Start a blog on a topic you are interested and/or post comments on blogs you read. These should reflect the person you want others to see you as. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation count. When people read your writing, they are making judgments about you based on how will you can express yourself.
  • Portfolios – Academic and interest portfolios are a way to show off the best of you, whether connected to school or interests/activities you are involved in. Enjoy art and design? Create a website that shows it off. Google Sites, Weebly, and Wix are just three of the sites you can use to create your portfolio.


  • Social Media – It’s become part of our culture to share posts and pics of your kids online. Think about things you did as a child. Would you want all of that shared publicly? Consider that idea as you decide what to share online.
  • Talk to kids about how you present yourself online and why. What kind of impression are you trying to give. Help kids learn to be thoughtful in their interactions and model the same. Common Sense Media has lots of resources for parents that can help.
  • Privacy and personal social space. Remember when you were a teen talking to a group of friends?  What happened when an adult walked up to you or opened the door? You likely stopped talking or changed the subject. Even though it appears that kids and teens no longer value their privacy, they actually do. They expect you to recognize when an online conversation is really for everyone or just aimed at their peers. When a teen posts something like, “I can’t believe Joanie did that!”- friends will respond. When mom jumps in on the responses, suddenly the conversation has ended. This is often what drives teens to use social media sites their parents don’t know about. They feel like their privacy has been violated. It’s Complicated by Danah Boyd is a great book that explains this and more about teens and social media.


  • Get your students working online. Digital stories, wikis, blogs, video, and portfolios are all ways to help your students learn how to present themselves and their work. This will help them build self image and help to counteract some of the missteps that are a natural part of growing up.
  • Digital Literacy and Digital Citizenship – As much as possible, integrate these lessons into the work you are having them do. It’s better to discuss it as they are working on projects, rather than as a separate topic. Common Sense Media is a great resource that provides a wonderful Scope and Sequence for teachers that will help you learn the topics and lessons trending today and then use directly with students.

If we work together, we can help students build a positive digital tattoo and combat the negative issues, such as cyber-bullying. Mistakes are going to happen. Rather than remove the digital world, we need to help students build up the positive. Online interaction is part of our every-day lives. Just as we do for so many parts of our kids’ lives, we need to prepare and guide them.

AS pic fall 2014Adina Sullivan is an Educational Technology Coordinator for San Marcos Unified School District, a Google Certified Teacher, CUE Communications Committee Chair, SDCUE Board Member, Leading Edge Certification Instructor, and EdCamp Organizer. You can find her on Twitter @adinasullivan or on Google+ as +adinasullivan.

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Adina Sullivan

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