Congress and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have taken special steps to ensure that children under 13 years of age don’t share their personal information on the Internet without the express approval of their parents. Congress passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in 1998 and the FTC wrote a rule implementing the law. The FTC currently is conducting a review of what changes, if any, should be made to COPPA to reflect the changes that may have been brought about from technology, such as the rapid adoption of mobile devices.
Parents who lack experience with the Internet, computers, or mobile devices must learn the basics before they can adequately monitor their children’s habits. A parent’s discomfort or unfamiliarity with technology is no excuse to let a child run wild on the Internet. In fact, in McAfee’s study, “The Digital Divide: How the Online Behavior of Teens is Getting Past Parents” showed that an alarming 70% of teens have hidden online behavior from their parents.
As with any task, one should start with the fundamentals. Spend as much time as possible with kids in their online world. Learn about the people with whom they interact, the places they visit, and the information they encounter. Be prepared to respond appropriately, regardless of what sort of content they find. Remember, this is family time.
Here’s some tips to help you protect your kids:
- Narrow down devices: In the past, many of us set up our family computer in a high-traffic area, like the family room, but this becomes less feasible as more children have their own laptops and mobile phones. I recommend limiting time online and also limiting the number of devices your child has.
- Teach then appropriate online behavior: Kids will be kids, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to say cruel things, send racy pictures, make rude requests, or suggest illegal behavior, just because they are online. If it isn’t okay in the physical world, it isn’t okay on the Internet. Also discuss with your kids what is and is not okay with regards to the kinds of websites they may visit and what type of content is ok to share or not share. They should also be taught to not open attachments or click on links from people they don’t know.
- Use parental controls: Consider investing in software with parental controls, which limit the sites your kids can access, times they are allowed online and the amount of time they spend online each day.
- Discuss stranger danger: Just like in the real-world, kids should be taught to never meet someone they know only online in person and that they should not chat or friend people they do not know.
- The Internet is forever: You and your kids need to understand that once things are posted online, they could live on forever. You no longer have control over that photo or video and it could come back to haunt them. They should follow the rule of thumb that they should not post or share anything they would not share with everyone.
The key to good online parenting lies in the basics of good offline parenting. Talking to your kids about the “rules of the road” for the Internet is just as important as talking to them to about things like looking both ways before they cross the street.