Don’t share your address online, don’t post your phone number, don’t give out too much personal info – Millennials grew up hearing all of the usual warnings about internet safety. And while these are still good tips, Gen Alpha will have to deal with a different type of online security: data privacy.
Each video, each site, every click – it all gets filed away to create a digital footprint. Sometimes this data makes things easier, like when you find a great new show based on your previous favourites, or when you get a notification that item you looked at is now on sale. But more often than not, this data can put your privacy at risk, and open you up to security threats. Gen Alpha will have to learn how to balance the good and the bad. The sooner they do it, better protected they’ll be.
Here are a few shocking facts to get you thinking on just how important parental protection really is. Our research has shown that without parental protection 66% of Gen Alpha kids would have been exposed to adult content. But it is not only adult content that Gen Alpha would be exposed to if there was no adult supervision. 49% of kids that would be the victims of cyberbullying, while 69% of them would be at risks to screen addiction. On top of that, 35% of Gen Alpha kids would have been susceptible to identity theft.
The numbers on their own might not carry enough weight. However, the way we approach our kids when it comes to their protection in the online and offline world, can make an enormous difference in their lives.
Steps You Should Take
Begin with stating that everything they share will never be, and has never been, 100% private. Even the messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp are not entirely confidential, communication can always be intercepted, conversations screenshotted, which is why they should be careful what and to whom they are writing to.
Sharing information in general
This goes beyond never sending their passwords, or sensitive information such as bank details, personal details etc. via messages. Some personal details and confidences should be carefully guarded as well.
They also have to be aware that it is not only online components they need to be careful about, their privacy can be breached if they post photos in front of their school or with a house number visible. Also, see that they are mindful about location sharing, and that they only share location with their close friends. Make a list of things they need to be careful about when they take photos or videos and explain why they should be wary of disclosing such information with the world wide web.
Besides educating your child about digital footprints, check what parental controls you can integrate on privacy settings on their devices. In that way, you can control what type of content they see online.
However, the first step to educate your children about the dangers that lurk in the online world, is to set some boundaries yourself.
You as a Parent and Social Media
Take a step back and observe your social media activity. What photos, videos and other type of content of your child you have shared online?
Believe it or not, even before the age of two, 92% of kids in the US have had an online presence. Think about it, how many times have you seen a video of baby’s first steps on your feed? Parents and family members are most often the ones sharing their children’s photos, videos and anecdotes online. They do it naturally, without being aware that this can be the greatest privacy threat to the children.
You can teach children a lot by giving them a voice and including them in a decision-making process about what to post online when the content includes them.
And don’t forget, it is not only what you post about your child, but what other family members and friends post too. Make sure you are in control of how exposed your child is to the online world and by whom.
Keep in mind, being aware of the invisible data we’re leaving behind is only half of the equation. While there’s a lot of data collected about our browsing history and biometrics, there is also a significant amount of data that we share willingly. Protecting your child’s identity entails more than watching what they share or what you share on social media – it’s also the seemingly harmless posts your friends, family, school, etc. share. Determine what level of sharing you’re comfortable with, then set clear boundaries with your network.
There is Little Difference Between Inappropriate Messages Online and Offline
There are always indicators when chatting online based on which you can tell when messaging is beginning to be inappropriate. Advise your children to avoid talking to people online they have not met offline. Tell them that while the Internet offers a world of possibilities, catfishing is a serious issue, and that they need to be careful not to fall victim to it. In order to be at ease, check that all the contacts in your child’s phone are of people they know and have met in the offline world.
Have a conversation about what they feel inappropriate messages might be. Tell them that if someone introduces sexual concepts in an online conversation, they shouldn’t be adversative and hide it from you.
Teach them that nothing in life is free. That every gift comes at a price, and that they should be very careful not to accept anything from strangers. Same as your parents did with you 20, 30 years ago.
Finally, monitor your child’s behaviour, if it appears out of the ordinary when asked about their online activities, it might be that something is wrong and they don’t feel comfortable telling you about it. Approach them with understanding and offer a non-judgemental and helping hand. Above all, it is important to make sure that your children feel comfortable to approach you if they sense something is off.
But to Really Get the Point Across, Show, Don’t Just Tell.
For a simple way to do this, sit down with your kids and click on a YouTube video. Then, have them click on the next recommended video. Do this several more times and discuss why each video might have been recommended. The site keeps tabs on what you’re clicking, and tries to match content to your interests to get you to click more. By showing that there’s a connection between what you’ve previously watched and what’s being offered up next by YouTube, you can start to explain the idea of “invisible data.”
Once they grasp this content, ask them to reflect about what information might currently be out there. What could someone infer about you based on the sites you visit, the things you click, or the way you use social media?
The moment your child gets an email address, speak to them about the importance of having a strong password – not only for that email, but for all profiles they have online. Tell them what are the threats of having a weak password and how not having a strong password, different for every account, they would be susceptible to online threats.
How about video games and all the scams that prowl the gaming industry? We advise you to download a game with your child, teach them how to check if the game provider is reputable, and how to distinguish fake games with which they could install a malware that would infect their device. This also goes for protecting your kids from questionable content in trusted video games.
Don’t skip a lecture on free public wifi, and make sure they are aware of the dangers that it brings. Tell them that they should be very cautious when connecting to free public wifi, since their online activities can easily be monitored. Then take a step further and talk to them about VPN that they can instal on their device in order to encrypt their online communication.
Online Privacy Protection
As Gen Alpha gets older, it’s also important to instil in them a healthy level of scepticism when signing up for new services or making online purchases. Instead of just blindly accepting the terms and conditions, teach them to evaluate the quality of the sites they’re visiting. Encourage them to ask questions like:
- Have I heard of this site before?
- Are others talking about it?
- What information are they asking for? Why?
Nonetheless, it is comforting to know that there are some legal restrictions that protect children from being an online prey. COPPA – Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, for example, forces all the websites that are collecting information from children under the age of 13, to comply with Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
There is also a privacy education apps available such as Privacy Pirates, that teaches kids how to ensure their privacy online.
In this world and age, where online realm equates with the offline one, we are faced with challenging questions pertaining to our privacy and ultimately our security. Millennials, as the generation that for the most part took up the torch of being parents to Gen Alpha, have the privy of learning about online privacy and security through trial and error. As the world of technology evolves so do threats to our online privacy, we should take a moment to think about how to guide Gen Alpha through the process of learning about the importance of online privacy.
.ME wanted to know more about how this generation uses technology, so we commissioned an independent study of more than 500 parents of Generation Alpha kids to look at how technology is affecting Gen Alpha relationships, academics, and social challenges. The study was conducted by an independent research agency in August 2019 and included a nationwide sample of 532 randomly selected parents of children 13-years-old and younger. If you want to get more technical, the margin of error was +/-4.25% at the 95% confidence level. Ethnicity and age breakouts are directional only.
This article is part of our series on Generation Alpha
We seek to provide answers to your most pressing questions about keeping your kids safe online, introducing them to the digital world, and helping them be their authentic selves online.
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