Originally posted on Medium

Giving a child a mobile device can be a mixture of emotions. It can give you reassurance that they can contact you in case of emergency. It can be exciting to give them a little more independence. But can also be a little bit scary, especially in light of all the recent news surrounding social media.

If you’re considering giving your child a device this holiday it’s important to help them navigate the online world. Part of that is helping them identify how to protect their information and what is appropriate to share and what isn’t.

A generation of oversharers

Many children have had their whole lives broadcasted on social media. From their first hospital pictures to last week’s baseball game.

As their parents, we’re excited to share our children’s milestones and life events with our network of family and friends. But this has blurred the lines between simply sharing and oversharing. And creates confusion with children about what they can and should share.

They are modelling their behavior after what they see their parents and older siblings doing. Changing our behavior on social media will help children learn the difference between what is good to share and perhaps what is best left off social media. Also helping them to understand that not every moment needs to be captured and posted.

As babies, our children have no control over where their image appears online. As their parents we are in control of whether or not we post their image, but once it’s out there, we lose that control. And so the question we have to ask ourselves is, are we okay with that?

As adults we are in control, for the most part, of what pictures of us are posted to social media. But kids don’t. We share photos of playtime, milestones, and embarrassing moments. But is that right? Would our teenage selves be okay with our most embarrassing baby photos being online for the world to see?

Asking permission before posting

One simple thing we can do is start asking our children before we post pictures of them. While photos of us from the 80’s and 90’s, covered in mud and leaves were embarrassing, they lived in a photo album, not displayed on a mantel or shared out to 200 of our parents’ friends.

We can let children be in control of their digital footprint by asking them, “I took this photo of you, is it okay if I share it on Facebook?” This question comes down to respecting our children, their privacy, and their right to make decisions.

In turn these conversations will help them understand that they should be asking others before they post and tag their friends and family in photos.

Personally Identifiable Information

There are some things, that as adults, we intrinsically know not to share out on social media — unless we want strangers contacting us or showing up at the places we live and work. When we do share this information it is often intentional — it has to do with our job or something we are promoting.

Any platform or game that is following COPPA guidelines prevents children’s personally identifiable information (PII) from being shared. Which means any information that combined with other details could identify the user — phone number, address, real name, etc. For the protection of our children it’s extremely important to keep their information safe.

Unfortunately social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram do not have to follow these guidelines, because they are rated for 13+. In fact, they encourage you to tag the location of the photo or check-in to a location — ultimately notifying your network about where you are. While you may be okay with that, strangers probably shouldn’t know where your child goes to school or that they’re currently at the mall. Many famous Instagrammers only post their photos after they’ve left a location, to prevent followers from finding them.

Turning off location services on a child’s device prevents apps from automatically suggesting locations to add to the posts, but having a conversation about why your children shouldn’t tag their location is also important step to protect their privacy — and the privacy of whomever they’re with.

Talk to your children about what PII is and why isn’t important to not share this information online. And that if an app or website ever asks for this information they should ask you first.

Tips for creating secure passwords

Passwords can be hard for younger children. They want to create something easy to remember and often will use the same password for everything they log in to. But as we all know, if it’s too simple it can easily be hacked.

Passwords with a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols can make it harder to be hacked. While kids might be inclined to use their birthday, try to find another number that has significance for them to use.

Another option is to take a line from a favorite book or song: ISolemnlySwearThatIAmUpToNoGood.

Longer strings are harder for hackers to guess and can be easier for children to remember if it’s something they really like.

Changing passwords regularly is also a great habit for kids to get into.

Public vs. Private

Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s we were always taught “don’t talk to strangers.” The age of the internet however, brings strangers into our lives, when we allow our profiles to be public. The same conversation about not talking to strangers or giving them personal information should extend to our online lives.

By teaching children to set their accounts to private, we can help control who has access to their feeds. Making sure they only add trusted friends and family, and that they personally know everyone they’ve added.

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all have privacy settings that will restrict who is allowed to see posts.

Become engaged

As parents it’s important that we’re aware of what social media platforms our children are interacting in. What their function is — sharing photos, chatting with friends — and some of the potential risks involved. Our lives are becoming more and more digital and as their first teachers we can help our children navigate the online world and become responsible digital citizens.

Looking for more ways to help teach your child about online privacy?

Come join Mazu with your family and take part in a movement to bring back positive core values to our digital lives.

Download Mazu to share your picture or story: Android | iOS

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