To Teach Kids Online Safety, Parents Must First Look At Themselves

School's out, but parents can still teach their kids a thing or two about how to protect their online privacy rights over the holidays. Privacy and the right to defend it have been at the forefront of global debate for the last couple of months. Already, Facebook and Google risk European Union privacy probes after being targeted among 19 cross-border complaints filed with regulators.

In Canada, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner provides guidance around protecting the privacy of children. These regulations are clear about what organizations can and cannot do when it comes to targeting children. Furthermore, regulators in the U.S. and in the EU are working to ensure the safety of kids and their privacy online in the U.S. through the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) respectively.

Regulations alone will not protect children
Thus, parents must take on the task of protecting their children's privacy themselves.

Since General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force in the E.U., I am seeing a change in attitudes around how individuals view their online right to privacy and how they are taking action to reclaim control over their private information. Another promising sign of change is authorities are also waking up to the fact that there are unintended consequences to online sharing, and rules need to be in place to ensure everyone's privacy — especially children's privacy — is safeguarded and respected.

"A lot of children are not aware of what it means to share information about themselves with any site or app."

As children increasingly plug into the online world, social media is a highly debated topic for parents. Unfortunately, a lot of children are not aware of what it means to share information about themselves with any site or app. In light of World Social Media Day recently on June 30, let's recognize the positive impact social media has on global communication and raise awareness around how parents can speak to their children on how to use the internet with best privacy practices.

The consequences of oversharing
Oversharing personal information with friends and making off-colour jokes is a natural part of maturing. Before the digital age, the consequences of this were minimal, but now we all have an online footprint that can be traced back to us. Many children will behave irresponsibly online and, unfortunately, this can have damaging consequences on your child's future high school or even tertiary education prospects.

According to a Kaplan Test Prep Survey conducted last year, 29 per cent of admission officers will now check up on a student's online presence. Last year, Harvard rescinded the acceptance of a dozen incoming freshmen due to the discovery of offensive memes on their Facebook pages.

Not only can it alter the course of which school your child attends, repercussions of online misbehaviour also extend to their graduation chances. In 2015, Dalhousie dentistry students were embroiled in a scandal after the discovery of a secret "gentlemen's club" in which they posted homophobic content as well as misogynistic content about their female classmates.

Expulsion was a serious consideration at the time, and even though a restorative justice process was chosen, this scandal will follow them throughout their lives. Furthermore, it was reported a number of the male dentistry students involved had missed out or were passed over on employment opportunities, fellowships and graduate studies.

"The conversation needs to move away from a culture of secrecy driven by not getting caught and towards healthy self-regulation."

This is why parents need to discuss privacy risks with their kids, and do it often. The conversation needs to move away from a culture of secrecy driven by not getting caught and towards healthy self-regulation when sharing online. What in the past was private or hidden can be breached and shared publicly, ruining or putting an effective damper on an otherwise stainless reputation and bright career prospect.

Perhaps the worst-case scenario of oversharing for children is the impact it has on their mental health. There may be a correlation between the rise in teenage suicide rates and the rise in social media usage. With cyberbullying remaining prevalent and the increasing adoption of secretive vault apps that allow users to hide photos on their phones, there are many ways your child could come to harm online.

Parents too need to look at themselves and see if they are not oversharing about their children and negatively impacting their habits as they mature. Children need to understand they have a right to online privacy, and that they don't have to consent to everything they are being asked for.

Our online privacy as individuals is important. It ensures that no one else is using our identity for their own purposes. Just as we as parents want to know who they hang out with and which friend's house they are going to, we need to ensure they are protected in the digital world the same way they are in the physical one.

Mike PalmerComment