Online privacy is a growing concern for parents as children and teens spend more of their time behind a screen.
By the age of 2, over 90 percent of children in the United States have an online presence, and nearly 70 percent of kids own a smartphone by age 12. Children from 8–12 years old are spending close to five hours online, while teens are getting over seven hours of daily screen time. According to the PEW Research Center, 45 percent of teens say they are online “almost constantly.”
With so much of our lives shifting online—including apps and websites used in classrooms—parents are rightly asking, “How can I teach my kids to protect their privacy on the internet?”
Why Is Online Privacy Important for Kids?
Some may think online privacy would be less of a concern for children. After all, most kids aren’t using banking apps or shopping online. Unfortunately, the reality may be exactly the opposite.
According to a 2018 study, over 1 million children were victims of identity theft in 2017. Children are appealing targets for identity theft, as their credit will likely not be checked any time soon. Fraudsters can apply for credit cards, loans, and more in a child’s name and go undetected for years.
Even if your child’s content isn’t inappropriately accessed, their digital footprint will probably be checked by college admissions officers and potential employers one day. It’s never been more important to teach digital citizenship and help young people understand how their online activity today could affect their lives.
What to Teach Your Kids About Online Privacy
Start with Your Settings
Most apps and online accounts have privacy settings, which allow your child to control who sees their information. As soon as your child opens an account, look for “Settings” or a gear icon, click on “Privacy,” and read through the options.
Don’t forget to create strong passwords, different for each account, and change them regularly.
Talk to Your Kids About the Latest Scams
Make sure your kids are informed about any new internet safety issues they could encounter. Scammers adopt new tactics regularly and take advantage of world events, so it’s worthwhile to keep up to date on what to watch out for.
Start with the basics: don’t click suspicious links or links from people you don’t know, check email addresses and web addresses for spoofing, and of course, use virus and malware protection software on all your devices.
Remind Kids That the Internet Is Public and Permanent
Since social media has become such a major part of kids’ and teens’ social lives, it can be hard for them to avoid sharing sensitive information or content online. However, most kids just need a reminder that what they share online can be seen by anyone.
If they wouldn’t be comfortable with a parent or teacher seeing their post, they should consider if they really want to share it. Even content sent through seemingly private channels like direct message, text, and email can be easily shared, and once it’s on the internet, it’s very difficult to completely erase.
Explain How Companies Use Their Information
When talking to your kids about online privacy, they may assume you’re just being overly concerned. After all, they’ve grown up with the internet as a regular part of life.
One topic that many kids and teens are not yet aware of is corporate data collection.
With all the potential privacy risks online, it may be tempting to hover over your child’s shoulder every time they pull out their phone or laptop. But keep in mind that kids today are digital natives, and likely know (or will soon learn) how to get around parental controls, set up private social networking, and browse the internet incognito.
However, when children and teens are empowered with information, they are better equipped to make smart and responsible choices with their online independence.