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Privacy Protection for Children: 9 Simple Things Parents Can Do to Protect Their Child’s Privacy

With over 30 million children in the USA accessing the internet every day, protecting children's privacy online is more important than every before. These are nine simple things you can do right now to keep your child's privacy safe. ...

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Privacy Protection for Children: 9 Simple Things Parents Can Do to Protect Their Child’s Privacy

Children’s privacy is a major issue. Over 30 million children access the internet every day in America. As a result, 1 of 5 children receive unsolicited communications of a harassing or unwelcome sexual nature while they are online.

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Children’s privacy is a major issue. Over 30 million children access the internet every day in America. As a result, 1 of 5 children receive unsolicited communications of a harassing or unwelcome sexual nature while they are online.

What makes children and their privacy extremely vulnerable? Their lack of real-life experience coupled with their high level of trust for adults and authority.

Consequently, children are now at even great risk than ever before in today’s technology driven world.  Unseen and unknown dangers lurk in the most innocuous of places.  To protect the privacy of children online, parents have to be on constant guard with a Pitbull like vigilance.

Online Privacy Protection Basics

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Real world advice always comes in handy.  The common standards apply: Don’t go to frightening places alone.  If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, leave.  Avoid inappropriate images and you won’t need to worry about them.  Don’t talk with strangers. And never give a stranger your personal information.

Real-world advice isn’t enough to protect your child’s online safety and privacy.

The only way to keep your children’s privacy safe is to involve yourself with them. Engage and sit with them and watch what they are doing at all times.  Hardly a practical solution.  In fact, there really are no simple solutions.

The crux of the problem has less to do with what comes into the computer, and almost everything to do with what goes out.  What puts your kids at the greatest risk is the private information your kids are saying and sharing in email, on blogs, bulletin boards, chat rooms, messaging, or on social networking sites.

And let’s not forget, what other kids say and post can also put your children and their privacy in jeopardy.

Cyber-bulling, a very real modern-day concern. A classmate might fall privy to compromising communications, information, or even a photo taken during a party in which your child was caught on camera doing something they shouldn’t have, and then uses this information to extort your child at threat of having the private, personal information posted online.

Do you remember “The Star Wars Kid” from many years ago?  It’s a classic example of a young person caught doing something embarrassing and being humiliated worldwide.  For the young man involved, the viral video was devastating and affected him for most of his life.  Such things are highly destructive to your child’s self esteem and confidence.

So, how does a parent protect their child’s online privacy and anonymity?

1) The best thing you can do for your child is to involve yourself in their digital lives

Get to know your child and get to know the technology they’re using.  Invest some regular quality time with your kids and have them show you the wonderful inventions they’re using and how they’re putting them to use.  Use this time to build a report with your children, to communicate with them, to learn about their online activities and who their online friends are.

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Take time to regularly Google search your child’s name, nickname and address to see what and if anything has been posted about them.

Depending on the age of your children and their technological sophistication, you might want to consider using filtering software such as NetNanny to limit what your child can do, say and see while online. Most web browser offer basic parental filters which also offer a degree of privacy protection.

2) Learn about the Internet and Internet related technologies

If you don’t already know how the internet works, now is as good as any time to learn.  It doesn’t take long to learn about websites, chat rooms, messaging, web cams, social networking and more.  A great learning resource is YouTube, where you can find dozens of tutorial videos demonstrating how each and every app your child uses works.

Another great way of learning more about the internet and how your children utilize technology is to ask your children to teach and show you.  Again, depending on the age of your children, this can be an excellent way to develop a strong relationship with your kids, learn about the internet, and establish rules and boundaries, and learn more about how your children are actually using the Internet.

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Do a little of your own research after the kids have gone to bed.  Learn about the websites they’re visiting and using.  Check out their blogs or personal web spaces.

Taking the time to learn more about what your kids are doing and the tools they’re using is an excellent opportunity to spend quality time with your children, learn more about what interests them, and learn who their friends are. It’s also an excellent way to develop the skills you’ll need to protect their online privacy and digital anonymity.

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3) Set expectations of monitoring and supervision

Let your kids know that getting and using technology is a privilege that can be taken away.  That technology comes with the responsibility of using it right and using it to protect their online privacy.

It’s important to let your kids know up front that you’ll be monitoring and supervising their online activities on a regular basis.  Indeed, the best thing you can do is place the family computer in a common area of the house that can be easily seen at any time.

And don’t be afraid to actually check in every once in awhile.

If your child uses a cell phone, check the incoming and outgoing call logs along with text messages, WhatsApp and Messenger, any other messaging services, photo and video galleries, and the monthly billing.  Cross reference phone numbers against those of known friends.

If your child uses social networking sites such as Instagram or Facebook, visit their site and discuss what you see with them. Restrict the amount and type of information they can post about themselves. Ask them questions and keep an eye out for warning signs or risky items.

While you don’t need to read every single piece of email correspondence, your child should be prepared for the inevitable situation that you might read “some” of their email or messages.

4) Let your kids know they’re safe coming to you for help

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Kids are terrified of getting into trouble with their parents, especially if they’ve broken important rules.

If you want honest and open communication with your kids and you truly want to ensure their safety while using a computer, cell phone, or the internet, it’s really important to let your kids know that in times of trouble they can comfortably come to you an expect amnesty.

Kids who fear they’ll be punished during times of trouble are more likely to try to resolve problems on their own or to cover them up.  Neither of which ever result in positive conclusions.

5) Watch for the warning signs

Do your kids spend an unusual amount of time online?  When in bed at sleep time, are they “surfing” instead?  Are they using messaging apps, chat rooms or newsgroups?

While this behavior is usually innocent enough, it can also be a sign of impending danger.  Evening hours present the greatest risk to your children.  Most predators work during the day and spend their evenings trolling social networking sites for new victims to exploit.

Take a few moments to talk with your children about this.  Let them know the dangers they possibly face and when to ask for help.

6) Have you found or seen inappropriate “adult” images, videos, links or bookmarks on the computer?

It’s almost impossible to enjoy the web without accidentally stumbling across pornography at some point.  It’s happened to most of us.

However, be aware that sexual predators often supply their potential victims with pornographic imagery.  They use it as a method of opening and controlling conversations or demonstrating that certain activities are considered normal.  As a parent, you should be aware that your children might try to hide such images by employing one of a number of methods including file encryption, storing the images on portable devices such as USB flash drives, external hard drives, their cell phones, or by hiding the files in complex nests of directories on the computer.

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It’s important to learn how to check the browser’s history log file and how to conduct automated searches for jpeg and other such popular internet image formats.

7) Does your child receive phone calls from “friends” that are unknown to you?

Online predators will eventually try to talk directly to their potential victims before setting up meetings.  They’ll engage in provocative, sexualized conversations and will often use the telephone or messaging apps as a method of setting up an actual meeting.
Statistics have shown that while most kids won’t give out their own phone numbers, they will call in to a predator under certain circumstances.

It’s important to check your child’s incoming and outgoing phone logs.  Almost all cell phones keep logs of the most recent calls made or received, and your cell phone provider can provide detailed call records with your monthly billing.

It’s equally important to get to know who your child’s friends are.  Ask about new friends, who they are, where they live and how your child has come to know them.

Teach your children that a friend made online is still a stranger.

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8) Has your child received gifts or packages from mystery friends?

When was the last time you sent a letter through regular mail?  If your child starts to receive letters, packages or photographs from a “mystery” friend, that is someone whom you don’t know, it could be a telling warning sign of something very wrong happening.

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Predators will often send letters or photographs through the regular mail to reinforce their relationships with their victims.  Some predators will go as far as sending travel vouchers or airline tickets with the hope of luring their victims to far away places.

Packaged gifts including expensive electronics being sent to your child are also a warning sign of something very wrong happening.  This could be an indication of predatory behavior or it could be an indication that your child has fallen victim to an online theft ring scam.

Regardless, parents need to be especially vigilant and ask their children about what is going on.

9) Does your child exhibit odd behavior when online?

Covering, moving, turning off, or otherwise blocking your view of the monitor is an indication that something is going on that needs your immediate attention.  Your child could be engaged in an explicit conversation or viewing explicit images.

Withdrawn behavior is physical indicator that something is wrong.  Children often have problems in their home or school life that they feel parents “just don’t understand”. 

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It’s simply a part of growing up.  Online predators exploit these problems by accentuating them, by making small problems look much bigger and far more overwhelming in the eyes of the child.  They offer “solutions” or “advice” that result in the child distancing themselves from their family and falling prey to the predator.

Just as a responsible parent discusses the dangers of real-life situations with their children, a responsible parent needs to discuss the dangers of online situations.  In the cyber world, anyone can assume the persona of anyone and easily pose as a friend.  Never let your children meet a cyber friend unsupervised.  Better yet, leave cyber friends to the cyber world.  Cyber friends, no matter how well you think you know them online, are still strangers.

Predators look for children in need of help or attention, and create personas that allow them to befriend the child.  These predators have the same online access as your children, they read online blogs, lurk in chat rooms, study social networking pages, and otherwise stalk their victims, looking for obvious weaknesses.

To Keep Your Child's Privacy Safe, Learn As Much About Internet Apps As You Can

Your best line of defense is to learn as much as you can about the internet and the technology tools your children are using.  Learn how the programs work, what they allow your children to discuss and post, and who can see it.  Ignorance isn’t an excuse, nor is believing your child won’t be a victim.  Remember, 1 in 5 children are harassed or propositioned every day while online.  Of the 30 million children online daily, 6 million will be stalked.  The numbers are staggering!

Place the family computer in a common room where it can be easily supervised and monitored.  Never allow young children to keep a computer in their bedroom.  Talk openly with your children about the risks and encourage open, frank discussions.  Let them know about the dangers of online predators and what the warning signs are.  Let them know they can talk to you whenever they feel the need or are feeling uncomfortable.

Take the time to review the history and cache files on the computer.  Search the hard drives for typical internet image format files such as jpg, png, mp4, or mov.  Examine the desktop, start menu, applications folder, and the My Documents folder for suspicious files and programs.  If you don’t know how to do this, ask a knowledgeable friend to help or show you.  Pornography, or any sort of sexual communication on the computer is a warning sign of danger.

Get to know your child’s email address and be aware that many free webmail services exist that allow your children to maintain multiple “secret” email addresses.  Searching the browser history will help identify if unknown mail services are being used.

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We have a ZERO spam policy. Your contact information will not be shared or sold. You can opt-out at any time, no questions asked.

Teach Your Children What They Can Do to Protect Their Privacy

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Encourage your children to use a fake name that doesn’t hint at their real identity, along with a fake phone number, school and home address.  If children find themselves in a difficult situation, a fake identity helps provide them with a safe exit.  Remember to never give out real names, never give out real phone numbers, never give out real addresses, never give out the city in which you live or the school you attend.

Use the Caller ID function on your home and cell phones to monitor incoming calls and use the Caller ID blocking function for all of your outgoing calls.  Regularly review cell phone call logs and detailed billing.  Ask your children about phone numbers you don’t recognize.  Regularly check text messages on the cell phone to see who is sending what.

The same applies to messaging apps. Learn what they are and how to use them. Check the messages frequently. And be aware that apps like Signal feature mechanisms to automatically delete incoming or outgoing messages after a pre-set short period of time.

And in closing, don’t be afraid to call the police of a situation arises that causes you alarm or distress.  In conclusion, it’s far better to be safe and embarrassed than it is to be sorry.

Written by: Tom R

What are some of the children's data and privacy issues that you're concerned about?

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