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First, tell kids the reasons behind the boundaries you set. When you ask a child not to share passwords or not to send messages to strangers online, also take a few minutes to explain why such behaviors could pose a risk.
Analogies using situations from the physical world can help. For example, children probably know that while it might be OK to share their home address in person with a close friend, it’s not OK to give it to a stranger on the street. But sharing information online, regardless of whom you’re sharing it with, requires extra care. This is because it’s easier for someone online to pretend to be someone else, and for information online to be shared with more than the person you intended. Remind children to check with an adult if they’re ever in doubt about sharing something online. And when they do ask you, explain how you made your decision.
Second, parents can look for examples of good or bad privacy practices embedded in everyday tools that children use. The website for PBS Kids, for example, tells children not to use any personal information, such as their last name or address, in their username. And instead of asking kids to create security questions, which often involve personal information, the site has children select three pictures to create a “secret code.” As children interact with sites like PBS Kids, parents can ask whether they understand why the websites have been set up this way.
Third, parents can check out existing resources related to privacy and security online. Common Sense Media and the Family Online Safety Institute offer great guides about privacy challenges children may face online and how parents can teach kids about them. PBS Kids, too, has created a series of technology-focused cartoon videos and parent guides that include lessons related to privacy and security. The U.K.-based company Excite-ed even developed a series of kid-friendly apps that include privacy-related tips and quizzes.
The task of teaching children about digital privacy and security shouldn’t just fall on parents. Educators are well positioned to help teach kids about these issues, given the increasing use of computers and tablets in schools. Companies who design and market technology also have a responsibility to respect children’s privacy interests.