Thanks in large part to social media and the always-connected lives we lead, today’s kids have their lives documented online in some cases literally from day one.
Research by online security experts AVG found that around 81 percent of children now have some sort of digital footprint before they are two years of age. That number includes children around the world, too; if you look at the United States alone, the number climbs to 92 percent.
By the time these children become teenagers and old enough to take control of their own digital footprints, an average of 1300 photos of them will have found their way online.
In recent years, more than one million children per year have been the victim of identity theft. The damage done by these thefts can follow these children for years, in some cases even into adulthood.
As parents, you obviously want to prevent things like this from happening. So what can you do to protect your children’s privacy online and keep them (and their personal information) safe? Quite a few things, actually.
The Mindset Of Online Privacy
To better protect your children’s privacy online, the first thing you need to do is understand a bit about online privacy.
While different websites and social media apps have different policies designed to keep users’ data safe, your privacy (and that of your children) ultimately rests on your shoulders. You are responsible for what you post and share, as well as the data that accompanies it. The more data you provide online, the more there is for others to access.
Unfortunately, some people don’t stop to think about this before posting photos and sharing personal information online. They also don’t teach key lessons on privacy to their children as those children start venturing online by themselves. This lack of personal privacy results in too much information being shared and children who grow up not knowing how to protect their personal data and identities online.
A Privacy-Minded Approach To Social Media
The first thing you can do to better protect your children and their privacy online is to acknowledge your role in protecting that data.
Even simple things like turning off location tracking and adjusting your privacy settings so that only registered friends can view your posts can make a big difference in who can access the things that you post. It may take some effort up front, but learning how the privacy features of your preferred websites and apps work (as well as adjusting your usage habits to actually improve your privacy) can go a long way toward controlling data access.
Perhaps even more importantly, this consistent approach also makes it easier for you to teach your children privacy-focused habits when they start going online themselves. If your child is ready to create an account on social media or start using other online services, take the time to help them set up their first account. Read through privacy policies together and discuss what they mean, and double check account data to make sure that things like age and location are entered correctly.
After setting up the account, walk through all of the security features and discuss how they work to keep your child safe.
Learning the security and privacy features of a social media platform when signing up isn’t enough to keep your child’s data safe and secure. Because of this, many services periodically update their privacy policies and other features, so it’s important to stay current with these changes.
A high-profile example of this kind of change arose recently when YouTube was fined $170 million for collecting data about kids’ viewing habits without their parents’ permission. As a result, the video platform is changing its approach to privacy and data collection not only for verified child viewers but for anyone who views children’s videos. This change is slated to go into effect around the end of 2019 and will restrict data collection on any child-targeted video to only what is necessary to support the platform (likely for purposes such as recording page views and whether the video has been viewed or not by a specific profile).
Know What Your Children Are Doing
One big complaint that many kids have is that their parents try to snoop through their email or social media activity.
Children, and especially teenagers, often use online services and social media as a way to establish some independence. This allows them to express themselves, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep an eye on them and how much they share.
One common way of doing this is to insist that your child add you as a friend or connection on any platform they use. This will let you see what’s being posted and what the privacy and security levels of those posts are. Periodic discussions of the amount of information they share and the settings they use can help you ensure that they remember what they were taught about staying safe online. You might also require that they review their privacy and security settings with you any time that they install a new app or sign up for a new service.
What To Watch Out For
There are laws in place such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that are designed to limit the amount of information that online companies can collect on children.
It still pays to keep your eyes open and look for signs of potential problems, however. This is especially important if you see your child spending a lot of time playing new games or using chat software, as children will often mark that they are over 13 when setting up accounts to keep functionality or access from being restricted.
Be especially wary of new online friends that your child spends a lot of time playing with or talking to in private messages. While it can be a wonderful experience to meet new people online, there are a lot of threats that first begin as innocent-seeming basic online interactions. Have a discussion with your children about the types of information that they shouldn’t share with strangers, and remind them that they should tell you if anyone starts asking too many personal questions or makes sexual or otherwise inappropriate comments or requests.
Protecting Your Children
Children today have long and deep digital footprints, in many cases starting before the child is actually born.
To protect your child and their personal data, it’s important that you take the time to learn good online privacy habits and set a positive example. You also need to pass these habits on, teaching your children from an early age how important digital privacy is. This extra attention will not only help to protect your child now, but will also help establish good habits that will keep their personal data safe well into the future.