The online privacy risks that our children face increase as they get older; and this is for several reasons: they’re getting more involved in social networks (as are their friends), they’re using the Internet more often for school research, and they’re growing more curious about the world around them. And if you’re like me, I tell my children they can ask me any question, and if I don’t know the answer, “we’ll Google it.”
Not only do these realities underscore the importance of teaching responsible online behavior at a young age, but it gives parents every reason to get more and more involved in their child’s online lives as they grow up in the digital age. This step-by-step approach is a guide to help you help your child learn how to protect their privacy while enjoying the intended benefits that the Internet and social networking have to offer them.
Start your education foundation by teaching your children, regardless of their age, these three simple facts:
- Nothing on the Internet is 100% private.
- Everythingon the Internet is forever.
- Privacy matters for their long term best interests.
And the risks they face when their privacy hasn’t been protected includes:
- Identity theft
- Privacy exploitation
- Financial loss
- Their personal information being sold to companies
- Becoming a victim of cyberbullying
- An unintended social media mess that can prohibit them from getting into a college or getting a job
Understanding the facts and potential conseqences really sums up a lot of the privacy issues that we are facing today, even as adults. But we can make the future safer for our children—not by relying on websites to do the job for us, (although there are some like Yoursphere that actually do) but by taking the initiative to teach our children how to protect themselves online by helping them recognize the issue when it arises (or when the potential is there), and the proper way to deal with it.
In essence, it’s important to recognize our children are just like us when we were growing up; they’re naïve about themselves, about the way the world works around them and they know very little about protecting themselves. The only difference is it’s an online issue for our children, and it’s coming at them a hundred times faster than it came at us, which gives us even more of a reason to get involved in educating them regardless of age.
After you’ve explained the facts and the risks, this is what I recommend you teach your children based on their age and what they’ll likely experience online:
Elementary school-age children: Define for them what constitutes personal information:
- Full name
- Home or cell phone number
- School name
- Sports teams or other club type names
Let them know:
- It is never, ever okay to provide all of this information to anyone on the Internet without you approving.
- If there is a website they want to join, know that the only information that should be required of them is: a birth date to determine if your child is under the age of 13 (allows the site to follow the children’s privacy laws), a desired user name, and your email address as a way to request your permission for them to join. That’s it, three things: birth date, user name, parent email.
- You need to approve anything they’d like to sign up for.
- “Stranger Danger” applies to the Internet. It’s not okay to provide personal information to people you meet online. While there are great places for kids to spend time online, it’s important they still protect their personal information.
Middle school-age children: Personal information is inclusive of:
- All of the above plus
- Their email address
- Their passwords
- Their bank account number
- Their instant messaging (IM) address
It’s important to underscore with this age-group that eventually someone will see what they’ve written or posted if they are a member of a social network. Keep in mind that on Yoursphere members’ profiles are on privacy lock-down and available just to approved friends.
If they have joined an adult-intended social network nothing other than their first name (or screen name) and age should be posted. Their real-life friends know where they go to school, they know their cell phone number, and they know how to reach them on Skype. Also, it’s important to teach them not to share their passwords with friends. Sharing passwords is one of the main causes of cyberbullying and other types of harassment online.
High school teens (and even the college crowd): Personal information is inclusive of:
- All of the above plus
- Their social security number
- Their bank account number
- Their passwords and log in information to their bank accounts
- Their passwords or log in information to their school accounts
Because this age group will be applying for jobs and/or colleges, they will likely have their own checking account and will be asked to provide their social security number. It’s an important they know when it’s OK to provide this kind of information.
Be specific. Tell your teen or college student:
- It’s NOT okay to text your bank log in information even if it’s to you, their parent.
- It’s NOT okay to email, or text their social security number to grandma even if it’s for them to create a college fund.
In addition, talk to them about Facebook photo tagging. It might not sound like an important privacy issue (and it really shouldn’t be), but Facebook users have very little say over who tags them in photos. With that said, it’s important that your kids check their notifications regularly for photos that their “friends” tag them in. And it’s equally important that they know how to remove unwanted tags.
Again, parents, regardless of age, the main lesson here is nothing on the Internet is 100% private, and everything on the Internet is forever. This holds even more weight as our children get older and a social media background check becomes part of their college/job application process.