Protecting Personal Privacy Online

Filed under: Media, Expert Advice: Big Kids, Expert Advice: Tweens, Expert Advice: Teens

online privacy and kids

Digital life is very public and often permanent. Credit: Getty Images

Our kids live in a culture of sharing that has forever changed the concept of privacy. In a world where everyone is connected and anything created can get copied, pasted, and sent to thousands of people in a heartbeat, privacy starts to mean something different than simply guarding personal or private information. Each time your child fills out a profile without privacy controls, comments on something, posts a video, or texts a picture of themselves to friends, they potentially reveal themselves to the world.

Why privacy matters

Digital life is very public and often permanent. If our kids don't protect their privacy, what they do online will create digital footprints that wander and persist. Something that happens on the spur of the moment -- a funny picture, a certain post -- can resurface years later. And if kids aren't careful, their reputations can get away from them and third parties -- like marketers or potential employers -- can access what kids thought was private information.

Your kids may think they just sent something to a friend -- but that friend can send it to a friend's friend, who can send it to their friends' friends, and so on. That's how secrets become headlines and how false information spreads fast and furiously. The stakes only rise when we remember that everything takes place in front of huge invisible audiences. Kids' deepest secrets can be shared with thousands of people they've never even met.

New technologies make controlling privacy more challenging. With GPS-enabled cell phones and location-sharing programs, kids can post their whereabouts. This information can go out to friends, strangers, and companies who will show them ads targeted to their location.

Advice for parents

  • Explain that nothing is really private. No matter what kids think. Privacy settings aren't infallible. It's up to kids to protect themselves by thinking twice before they post something that could damage their reputation or that someone else could use to embarrass or hurt them.
  • Teach kids to keep personal information private. Help kids define what information is important for them to keep private when they're online. We recommend that kids not share their addresses, phone numbers, or birth dates.
  • Make sure your kids use privacy settings on their social network pages. Encourage kids to really think about the nature of their relationships (close friends, family, acquaintances, strangers) and adjust their privacy settings accordingly.
  • Remind kids to protect their friends' privacy. Passing along a rumor or identifying someone in a picture (called "tagging") affects their privacy. If your kids are tagged in friends' photos, they can ask to have the photos or the tags removed. But there's not too much they can do beyond that.
  • Establish a few hard-and-fast rules about posting. No nude or semi-nude photos or videos -- ever. Not online, not via mobile phone (known as "sexting"). No pictures of doing drugs, drinking, or having sex.
  • Remind kids that the Golden Rule applies. What goes around comes around. If kids spread a rumor or talk trash about a teacher, they can't assume what they post will stay private. Whatever they say can come back to haunt them in more ways than they can imagine.
  • Help kids think long term. Everything leaves a digital footprint. Whatever gets created may never go away. If they don't want to see it tomorrow, they'd better not post it today.

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Get more information for parents on media and technology by checking out Common Sense Media.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.