How do children understand, value and negotiate their privacy online? 

They don’t, but nor do most of their parents. In fact, children and adults differ in their views of privacy online, risks and protections anyway.

A common thread in debates about online privacy broadly is a lack of concern about its importance, the high level of oversharing that occurs in social media platforms [by parents and children] and underestimating the consequences of this on a person’s identity and personal information.

Privacy is “neither a right to secrecy nor a right to control, but a right to appropriate flow of personal information” (Nissenbaum). 

As parents, it’s important to understand how you can make conscious choices to protect and manage your family’s privacy.

While young people often care deeply about privacy in interpersonal relationships, they may not recognise how their privacy is also intertwined in their relationships with institutions (such as school) or why commercial enterprises are interested in and use their personal data for financial gain.

The challenge for families is that their children’s privacy concerns do not always trigger self-protective behaviours. The benefits or incentives of socialising with and making new friends online, their belief that they have control over their personal information, and the blind trust they have in their audiences and frequently used social media platforms leaves young people’s privacy online at risk.

Researchers recommend that ‘children have the right to know what happens to their data online, so media literacy and privacy education should start at an early age to help children to understand better the digital environment, nature of consent, and the outcomes involved.’

Children as young as 5 can identify some information as sensitive and hide from their parents. But have no clear understanding of online privacy protection. By 8-11 years they are starting to understand the risks of sharing, however,  there are gaps in their understanding of privacy Terms and Conditions.

12-17 year olds consider privacy risks as mainly interpersonal, not commercial and are influenced in their decision making by immediacy and the desire for benefits rather than potentially distant, uncertain risks.

Protecting Your Family’s Privacy

Maintaining privacy online is a collaborative effort that families need to decide upon and manage together and should ideally involve proactive research about best practices for online privacy and ongoing, open conversations about how to protect privacy and navigate the web safely.

The top 3 actions to take are:

#1 Use strict privacy settings in apps and browsers

Prevent apps from accessing unnecessary personal information that is not required for the app to function. Regularly review browser and app privacy settings with young family members and demonstrate how to set browsers and apps to the strongest privacy setting 

#2 Use strong passwords and enable two-factor authentication

 Using multiple strong passwords with two-factor authentication is an important step to prevent unwanted users from gaining access to online accounts 

#3 Do not let apps share data

Mobile apps frequently require access to information on your phone to run. However, unless the information is critical for the app to function, encourage your children to prevent the app from accessing this data. This may include accessing your contacts, location, photos, music or calendar.

While family members may have conflicting ideas about privacy, it’s possible to build a mutual understanding of why digital privacy matters and help everyone understand best practice.

The book ’The Parents’ Survival Guide to Children, Technology and the Internet’ also has a chapter devoted to Parental Controls which includes advice about recognising the need for trusts and privacy.

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