I love this time of year. We’re into the fourth quarter of summer, and if you’re a sports fan we’ve got a bit more of the 2016 Summer Olympics to go. College football is a couple of weeks away, and the US Open is just knocking on the door for your attention (well, mine, anyway).

Time to upgrade your TV size?

For all those of us who are parents, we’re also anticipating the new school year commencing. You probably have school supplies purchased and the annual new backpack is ready to go. And, in what is now the new normal, our kids probably have a device that is connected to the Internet in their (back) pocket.

Did your school supply checklist come with a box to check for “online safety” or “safe online behavior”?

No? Well, it should have.

Now I know that many school districts have policies and procedures in place for appropriate online behavior. But what about our responsibilities – as parents – to help guide our kids when they use the technology we have provided them?

And let’s be honest: for our own convenience?

The lines of convenience and technology have completely blended together, but are we losing the opportunity to manage/control our kids’ technology use?

According to a Trustlook study quoted by eMarketer.com – Parents Want Some Control of Their Child’s Mobile Phone Usage:

Before you send your children off to another school year, have a conversation with them about online safety. This graphic of the popular social media apps helps explain what is and is not age appropriate.

As you can see from the data, managing the phone is a concern for many parents. However, I would suggest that the bigger issue is data sharing (Big Data) and social media.

Big Data and YOU

Let’s look at data sharing … and our kids. A 2013 survey by Netmums found that children spend twice as long online as their parents think they do and start using the Internet at the average age of three. Parents thought their kids were online less than an hour a day; the actual average was two hours. One of every seven under-14-year-olds was on four hours or more, daily. And one in 20 children admit they arranged to meet, in person, a stranger they met online.

Today’s teens and preteens have very limited awareness about the information that they share when using the Internet. Begin with helping them understand what “personal data” is. It’s anything that relates to them (or any specific person), such as a name, age, address, phone number, social security number, IP address, etc.

Here are a few things to discuss with your children, and ask them to think about when they post or are asked to share:

  • Every click, post, open, view, ping, purchase, visit, conversion, and search can be connected (by someone) to present a 360-degree view of you (and your kid’s) digital profile
  • Once data is digitized it NEVER goes away unless it’s deleted at every single location that holds it (difficult and unlikely)
  • What our children post today could be there FOREVER
    • Pictures, texts, messages, etc.
  • Data compiling is a prerequisite to profiling
    • What is posted on Facebook will be assessed when you apply to college, and perhaps when you apply for a job
  • Now more than EVER you (and your children) are tracked and targeted
    • Cross-device tracking / Internet of Things

Advertising finances the Internet. As parents we have to be diligent with our children’s online activity and what they share and with whom. What they share goes into a vast pool of PII (personally identifiable information) that advertisers buy, sell, swap, trade, and use.

The big data landscape has exploded in the past four years. Here’s a sampling of all the companies that operate in that ecosystem.

So what’s that got to do with helping keeping our kids safe online?

Companies CANNOT market to kids under the COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) but time and time again we see that companies get into hot water with the FTC and other governing bodies when they get caught with data gathered from minors.

Remember: Your data is NOT safe online

Our digital identity is worth $$ to the Internet underground. Many different subspecies of bad guys exist, including hackers, hacktivists, governments, terrorists, child traffickers and criminals of all stripes, and they all want a piece of the action. As an example, if they can figure out how to get your child’s social security number, they can sell his or her identity to someone who needs, for any number of reasons, to be in possession of a clean credit record.

Top tip:

Ensure that you counsel your kids on what they share about themselves (and you) online, and with whom. From the first share, the good (and bad) guys are building a profile that will be used for marketing (best case scenario) or crime (worst case scenario).

The Dangers of Social Media

Now let’s look at one of the biggest concerns for most parents today; social media!

No one can deny the popularity of social media applications, we all use (and misuse) them in all kinds of ways, for many different reasons. However, when our kids engage with these apps (especially the kids in grade school) all rules and barriers for normal behavior seem to be left aside.

These apps provide a digital forum that can and does lead to misbehavior. School can be difficult for many kids. When they get targeted via social media online, bullying can make that experience even worse, with potentially tragic outcomes.

Are you old enough to remember being bullied in school when it was in your face in real time? Can you imagine how you’d feel today if you were a kid again, this time being cyber bullied? For whatever reason, lots of kids and wouldn’t communicate their experience. That is a very lonely place.

Let’s look at some popular social media apps, what they do and the acceptable age to obtain an account:

This graph provides a description of popular social media apps and shows what they do and what the acceptable age limit is.

When it comes to social media and our kids, remember:

Kids (under 13) are covered by:

  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)
  • Websites that collect data on kids are REQUIRED by law to follow COPPA
  • If your children have one of these social media accounts, they have either:
    • Signed up with false information
    • Had assistance to do so

Networking apps sounds great in principle

  • Communities of kids connecting with each other
  • Sharing information, ideas photos etc.
  • But what’s REALLY happening is:
    • We are providing an immense amount of power to our children
    • In a very dynamic, potentially dangerous online environment
    • Who can’t understand the “big picture” on the technology
    • Unless WE coach them
  • Allow for bad things to occur in what should be one of the safest places – school
    • Cyberbullying etc.

What’s the difference between bullying and cyberbullying?

This graph outlines the difference between bullying and cyberbullying.

As kids get older and more computer-savvy, it’s likely that they’ll learn how to get around any nanny technologies and filters. This makes it even more important that you educate them on online behavior, and coach them to do the right things.

Internet Safety Tips and Discussion Points for the Dinner Table:

  • Any child or teen can become the victim of an Internet predator. Predators do not discriminate based on gender, ethnicity, education, socioeconomic status, income, or religion. It is happening NOW.
  • Teach your child or teen to never share private or identifying information, such as his or her name, address, school, etc., with a person online that is not known or trusted in real life. A predator can use this information to groom and/or locate your child or teen. A 2009 study reported that 16 percent of kids and teens have been approached by strangers online; it’s unlikely that this number has gone down.
  • Strengthen the privacy settings on all social networking sites and ensure that these settings remain unchanged after updates. Social networking sites often publish posts as “public” based on the default settings.
  • Disable geotagging on all mobile devices, as it has the ability to automatically pinpoint and disclose your child’s or teen’s location. This option is usually found under “Settings” on most devices.
  • Discuss the dangers of “checking in.” Various applications allow your child or teen to share his or her exact current location on social media sites.
  • Remind your child or teen to choose an online handle, username, or screen name carefully. Much can be inferred from how your child or teen represents himself or herself online, which can prompt a predator’s initial contact.
  • Monitor your child’s or teen’s activity on the computer and on all mobile devices. This includes desktops, laptops, tablet computers, cell phones, and all handheld and video game devices with online connectivity.
  • Know the passwords on all devices used by your child or teen. Check them regularly.
  • If you suspect your child or teen is being cyberbullied: be supportive, get the facts, and if necessary, contact the school or law enforcement. Conversely, teach your child or teen that there are negative consequences for those who cyberbully.
  • Many children and teens engage in sexting. Sending and/or receiving nude pictures of minors is considered child pornography. As a result, there may be both emotional and legal consequences for both you and your child or teen.
  • Educate yourself on the mobile applications that your child or teen is using. Ask for an explanation and a demonstration.
  • Maintain loving, open, and respectful lines of communication with your child or teen while setting enforceable rules for online safety. Assure your child or teen that he or she can always come to you for help in an uncomfortable or potentially dangerous situation.

There are numerous resources available for keeping safe online here are a few for your consideration:

Check out the following:

NetSmartz is an initiative of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Among the resources they offer are learning tools for teens, including comics, videos, and games designed to help them understand the issues and self-manage their behavior.

Split Decisions


Parenting was hard enough before the Internet came into our lives! Giving young children access to technology that allows them access to essentially any kind of content is a lot of power for them to understand and manage, and risky.

Training and attention will help your kid become one that can harvest the right things from the Internet.

Let’s work hard to keep our kids safe online.