Internet Safety for Kids

Kid at computer
This one is for the parents, caregivers, teachers, educators and anyone who knows a child they care about. It is important because the internet changes so quickly and kids often experience something before we (as adults) even know it exists. For many youngsters, the internet is a way of communication and community. For some, it can be exposure to content they may not be ready for. Here are facts and resources I have found to help you stay aware.

Driving and the Internet

When I talk about the internet I like to equate it to driving. In today’s society we drive because it is convenient, quick, and easy. BUT there is a danger and risk associated with driving. To help avoid the dangers, we teach new drivers the rules of the road and how to actually drive a car. The internet is the same. The conveniences and advantages are too numerous to mention. Yes, there are risks, but with proper education of how the internet works and the rules you should follow, we can mitigate those risks.

Driving and the Internet

When you consider your use of a car, over 99% of the time, you will be like the guy in the first picture above, successfully travelling from point A to point B. Sometimes you will have inconveniences like the second picture. Fender benders or traffic tickets. Unlikely, but possible, you’ll have a major accident. The more precautions you take, the easier it is to avoid to accidents. Most of the time that people spend connected online is a positive experience.

COPPA – Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act

If the internet had a license to use it , it would be COPPA.

The internet classifies users by 3 age categories:

  • Under age 13: Children, protected under COPPA
  • Age 13 – 17: Teens
  • Age 18 and over: Adults

COPPA was passed in 1998 and has been amended several times as technology has changed. According to the rule, “COPPA imposes certain requirements on operators of websites or online services directed to children under 13 years of age, and on operators of other websites or online services that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information online from a child under 13 years of age.” These requirements include the amount of data collected about users and what advertisements are presented to them. In plain English, networks cannot sell children’s data or sell to them. Due to these regulations, most email servers (ex Gmail, Yahoo) and networks (ex Facebook, Google+) do not allow users under 13.

At 13, teens can create accounts on major networks and services but again with restrictions (limited sexual, violent and adult content). At 18, all restrictions are lifted and users are treated as adults whose information is fair game for third parties and whose privacy settings will be far more lax.

So why does this matter? If you sign a child up for a service before they turn 13, then they will be registered as older than they are and thus will be presented with adult content when their fake birthday indicates they are 18 years old.

When asked, 80% of Children under 13 admitted to having a popular social network account despite the minimum age restriction. That’s because so few sites exist that comply with COPPA that they use the major services anyway. Though there are now options for safe email for kids under 13, the lack of child-friendly sites is well-known, so hopefully we’ll see more emerging soon.

Binary Tattoo: Approved Resources

To best help guide kids through this new world, we have to first understand what it is, and how they are using it. These are the resources I recommend to help you appreciate the benefits, and prepare for the risks.

Favourite book

I have read many books on “parenting in the digital age” and the best, by far, is It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by Danah Boyd. Danah’s long list of academic and professional titles include Microsoft and Harvard’s Berkman Center (study of internet and society). She focuses on the positive and explains how children these days are using the internet, which may differ than what parents assume. Though the book was published a few years ago, it is still very relevant.

Favourite videos

For more information about the popular networks kids are using, we obviously recommend our own YouTube channel. Videos range from humorous to serious, but all educational. You can learn more about Live Streaming sites, Instagram, Snapchat, and much more. Subscribe to see when new videos are published.

When kids are online, the experience is as much about how it affects them as it is about the technology. TEDx published a video by social psychologist Sonia Livingston called How Children Engage with the Internet (17 mins). Sonia has spent over 20 years studying how generations adapt to the technology they are presented with. She acknowledges the fears adults have but also points out the pros to the technology. My favourite quote from this video

There have been no longterm increases in childhood troubles and difficulties: child abductions, sexual abuse, suicide, mental health issues, accidental death. What there has been is a new visibility.

Favourite Websites

Media Smarts is a Canadian based site for “Digital and Media Literacy”. They offer great information on all the digital issues you may encounter with kids. They also have a great teacher resource section. Caveat: Occasionally I find their material dated (like by a year or two) but the general information is helpful and a great place to start.

Common Sense Media is my go-to for all digital ratings. They “rate, educate, and advocate for kids, families, and schools”. Their lists includes apps, movies and games. They have a suggested age for all media as well as great resources for parents and educators.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB, is the video game rating board. You have likely seen their symbol on any video game purchased or in commercials (“rated E for everyone”). A worthwhile source to check as they have over 8500 mobile apps rated on their site.

Favourite Research Study

There is a lot of information about surveys and studies of teens but the most telling I have seen is CNN’s Being 13. Over 200 eighth graders allowed their social media lives and feeds to be followed for months. This study revealed what statistics and website numbers could not – how kids *felt* about social media. One girl tells the story of how she took nearly 100 selfies in order to chose just one to post on Instagram.

More Articles

You are welcome to explore any of blogs on the Binary Tattoo site or Yummy Mummy Club, but here are the most popular blogs with kids in mind:

As always, knowledge is your most powerful tool. The best advice is to learn with the kids. And if you are not sure about what they are using, ask them to teach you.

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