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Parents: Are Your Kids Backing up Their Data?

Most children and teenagers will not back up their data, unless they are prompted to do so. Even if they are taught how to set up automatic backups on their school devices—in my experience this is either covered in a single period, or not at all—it is worth checking whether or not backups are happening at home.

Data backups become important when your children start using software for school projects, or for hobbies, like playing Minecraft. Many creative pursuits also require digital file storage.

A few months ago, my teenage child, who is deeply into Minecraft, lost several months' worth of collective world building. The save file that contained all that information disappeared during an update (we looked, and looked some more), and Microsoft's own file syncing for Minecraft hadn't worked properly. This was an upsetting experience for my child, who bore the responsibility of hosting the world and all the work put into it by friends as well; it was a hard lesson about the importance of making backups.

Even if you are not completely confident about how backups work yourself, I want to encourage parents to take a look at how your children are saving their work on devices used at home. You could start by asking them, and perhaps yourself, the following question: What would happen to your save files if someone spilled a glass of water on the keyboard, or if we lost the laptop?

What is a backup?

A backup is a copy of a save file that is stored on a different device. This could be, for example, a USB drive, or another computer. Cloud storage is essentially storing a file on another computer (over the Internet), usually one managed by the company that provides the storage. The benefit of keeping backups of files is that if a specific device is lost or if it breaks, your data is kept safe.

A bit of terminology:

Using backups (instead of synced files) will probably work best for your children's data.

How can I check how my child saves their data?

You can check how your child stores files by sitting with them, and asking them to show you their work flow. I have done this with all my children, and, when I was a high school teacher, with many of my students. It takes time, but because every person has their own system of organising files, sitting with them is the only way.

You might start by asking them to show you where they store school work. While this is now often done on online school management systems (which usually means the files are safe), some school projects might be created on your child's laptop, for example. Seeing their specific school-related workflow can give you some insight in how your child sees the operating system and how they handle data and files in general. You may have to brace yourself and look hard for method in the madness.

You might learn that your child just saves everything to the desktop. Another possibility is that they might be saving files to the operating system's dedicated folders (Documents, Pictures, Videos, etc.) on the local hard drive. And a third possibility is that your child just saves files where ever each individual application saves work by default. In that case, it might be best to open a specific project, select 'save as' and see where that application saves work.

In all of the above cases, it is highly likely that files are saved on the device only. You may have agreed to some form of automated backup, for example, to Microsoft's OneDrive, or Apple's iCloud Drive, when first setting up the operating system on a new device.

If you know how to look into your operating system's backup methods to see if backups are already happening, then do. If you don't know how to do this, then it might be best to work on the assumption that files are not being backed up.

A note about smartphones: While phones are ubiquitous among school-aged children, I am not as familiar with cloud saves of actual files on mainstream devices, as I have not been using them. This article will focus on PC and laptop saves. In my own household, social and fun things are done on phones, and work is done on laptops.

How should I back up my child's data?

Any form of backup is better than having no backup at all. Automated backups are best, because we are human and will eventually forget to do the boring task of creating regular manual backups.

The statement that any backup is better than no backup goes against the philosophy of this blog, which is all about data privacy. However, if those backups are stored in Google Drive, Dropbox, or any other proprietary or data collecting option, I would argue that that is better than allowing your children to risk losing their data altogether.

Of course, once you and your children have familiarised yourselves with backups, I would encourage you to start looking into methods that don't gather your children's data. More about that later.

There are simple ways to set up automated data storage. If you have a free or subscription-based cloud storage app, it should appear in your file manager just as another folder (usually on the left of the file manager) you can click on and open. Anything you store in, for example, the Dropbox folder, will be copied to Dropbox's own computers, where ever in the world they may be.

Another simple method, and one that might be easier for kids to remember to use, is to set up automated backups of each of their user folders: Documents, Pictures, etc.. Cloud storage apps should have a simple option for automating this type of backup.

Thirdly, you could create a single folder—on your child's desktop, for example—and sync that folder to your cloud provider's backup service. When create sub-folders within that one synced master folder (School Work, Art, Game Saves, etc.) everything in those sub-folders will be backed up too. You will need to check once in a while your child is using the special folder.

You could also make their purpose more visually clear to your child by creating separate backed up folders on the desktop (Maths, Language Arts, Games, Photos...) rather than one automatically backed up master folder.

If you know how, you can add an extra physical storage drive to your child's computer. This will show up on the left side of the file manager. It is usually safer to store your data on a second drive, and not on the hard drive that runs the operating system. Systems, like Windows, can crash and this can lead to personal data being wiped. Should you experience such a crash, a new install of the operating system will automatically recognise the extra physical data drive, with all your data intact. A USB stick can function like an extra data drive too.

Finally, you could make regular manual backups of your child's data. If you know how, you could automate syncing to a second hard drive, or you can just buy a USB storage device and make a copy of all the user created data once a month. You could set a reminder to do this on your calendar.

What Cloud Storage Options Are There?

I stand by my earlier claim that any cloud backup system is better than having none at all. So if you are already familiar with Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox or other forms of cloud storage, and your child isn't currently backing up files, go ahead and set that up.

But this blog is called The Privacy Dad for a reason. I think it is better to store your child's data in such a way that their files are both backed up and kept private. Below are some examples of ways to do that.

Privacy-first cloud services

There are several privacy-focused cloud storage services out there. They usually offer a limited free storage option, and then a larger storage option for a monthly or yearly fee. Some offer family accounts, which means you can create several individual cloud storage users within your home at a reduced cost.

Here are the ones I am familiar with and would recommend:

I will add links to paid subscription information below. Proton Family looks like a great multi-user deal to me.

Self-hosted cloud services

This is not for everyone, but if you are a parent with some interest in computers, and don't mind spending time tinkering with open source software, you could try setting up a family cloud just on your home network. It's best to do this on a dedicated computer, and this can be an older PC with the older HDD type of drive. The software itself is free! I recently wrote about my own experiences hosting a family Nextcloud server.

Manual backups

As described above, you can make manual copies of your child's data on a USB stick, for example. This is a very private method, because you are not sharing any data with a company. You will have to do some digging to see where everything is stored, and for video game saves, this process can be more involved.

A tip if you plan to use this method: look into options for syncing data between the source file and the backup file, rather than creating a copy over the full data set each time. This will vary per operating system, but macOS, Windows and the different Linux desktop versions all have commands to set up this type of automated back up.


As mentioned, there are several ways in which human error can creep in, and your child could still lose some data even with a system for backups in place:


If your child is currently not backing up their saved data, I would urge you to get on it right away and find a method you are comfortable with to ensure files are backed up. Do it this week! Have transparent conversations with your kids about what you are doing and why backups are important. It's best to sit down and set it up together, though the success of that approach will depend on the interest and patience of the individual child (and parent).

By the time your children become teenagers and then adults, they will hopefully be familiar enough with backing up and syncing so they can manage their data responsibly themselves. If they've picked up something about data privacy along the way, that is a win.


My Family Nextcloud Server

The Compromise of Cloud Storage

Kids and Screens: Laptops, Linux, LibreOffice

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