Online Privacy For Children

Educate children on privacy to keep them safe in the online world today

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It’s the law! The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), enacted in 1998 in the United States of America, prevents collecting the personal data of children below thirteen years of age. This is specifically to protect children from potential exploitation and abuse. This was a great law when it came, but then came smartphones, apps and social media!

One may say that the law is for the United States. Don’t forget, the rest of the ‘free’ world usually follows what happens there. It will be enlightening to know if any other country has framed similar laws. Perhaps some have, but COPPA continues to be the point of reference in most discussions on children’s privacy.

Catch them young!

What is the flip side of the law in today’s time? Well, it is a boon for the social media industry because now they can start collecting the data of children (which they do!) as soon as they enter the teenage years. The ‘catch them young’ mantra comes into full swing and by law!

So what if social media came much later, the law still exists.

So what if social media may have an adverse effect on many children, it is somebody else’s problem.

So what if social media exposure comes unhindered and in full force for children to even understand its pitfalls, they have to deal with it.

And then came COVID to put children online all the time!

The new law of gravity!

The question is, when children are using smartphones and apps (read social media apps) as early as the sixth grade, why is there no initiative to teach them about online privacy as well? Does any school anywhere in the world have privacy in their curriculum? Well, we teach sex education at puberty, don’t’ we?

When young children get exposed to social media, it starts with fun and to look cool. While most parents do tell them that they need to be careful what they post or share, it is doubtful if children actually understand the gravity of things. What could go wrong if they post their pictures, their hobbies, likes and dislikes, or even their contact information? For them the world is a nice place, and the online world even nicer!

Are they at fault? Absolutely not! It’s like not teaching them Science and then blaming them for not knowing it. This leaves them completely vulnerable and in an experimental mode which may result in the good, the bad and the ugly. Sometimes they get shamed by their own peers and even trolled. Many children who cannot cope with the ‘social pressures’ go into depression. Day and night, they feel compelled to check their messages to quickly respond.

Every parent today can cite similar experiences their children have to deal with. In many cases, parents are not even aware because children in general tend to keep their social experiences ‘private’. Some get so badly bruised that it starts impacting their personality. The scars that happen at this tender age could remain for life, not just the ‘online life’ but otherwise too. Scary but true and happening all around us every day.

Can any parent ration smartphone use by their children? Not really. Can they prohibit or restrain social media use by their children. Practically not. Can they switch off the Wi-Fi at home? Not unless they want war!

Climate change Deja-vu!

The world is so overwhelmed with climate change these days. Should we not change the ‘climate’ for our young children too? We say we need to protect the environment for our children’s future. How is this different for their future?

All we need to do is introduce, teach and emphasize the importance of privacy in our children’s teenage years. If done as part of the curriculum in school, there would be quicker and better acceptance by children because, unlike parents, schools are in the business of educating.

First, children can be educated about age-appropriate apps. Secondly, they can be groomed for polite online behaviour, the ills of trolling and peer-shaming. Thirdly, they can be cautioned about posting their pictures and personal information with a warning that ‘what goes online once remains online forever’. Fourthly, they can be made aware of statistics around anxiety, depression and personality issues that ‘social’ people face, particularly their age group. Finally, they can (and must) be told that studies, sports and extra-curricular activities at school will form their career and future life, not online socializing.

With the current status quo being lopsided in favour of social media apps, a balanced way to keep our children safe online is the need of the hour. There is nothing stronger and long term than the right education at the right time.

Let’s have some climate change activists here too!
Let’s change the world!


Riddlock Total Privacy

Experience user, data and social privacy by default and by design - Go private.