Privacy Matters So Talk With Kids About It

Privacy spiral

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After recent news reports about the National Security Agency (NSA) and its data collecting, we adults are thinking much more about the lack of privacy in our lives. We need to remember, however, that including children and adolescents in the conversation is important if they are to become competent and confident digital citizens.

With our online profiles, social media accounts, mobile devices, and files saved to the cloud, almost no one doubts that we have less privacy; however, what is an ideological or big discussion issue for adults is far more complicated and abstract for children. For most adults the sentinel issue — how much data collection intrudes on a family’s or individual’s personal life — is a primary focus. The issue for children, on the other hand, is that without basic understanding of privacy concepts they lack the information and the skills that they need to recognize and avoid potential problems.

Many years ago my parents designated important topics for dinner table conversations — broad subjects that we recycled again and again as the four of us shared family meals. When one or the other parent said, “We should talk about that at dinner,” my brother and I knew it was something that Mom and Dad wanted us to take seriously.

Today children and adolescents need to experience this same type of dinner table conversation to help them learn about privacy and develop strategies for maintaining as much of it as possible.  

Privacy rights clearninghouseTo get started parents may want to check out the fact sheet Children’s Online Privacy: A Resource Guide for Parents at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. To begin the conversation and with some basic information parents and children may want to watch the Digital Dossier Video (watch it together) from Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet an Society.

For more information about digital privacy in general, check out a 2010 New York Times article, F.T.C. Backs Plan to Honor Privacy of Online Users, which reported on recommendations from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about collecting online information without permission. The article, written by reporters Edward Wyatt and Tanzina Vega, describes the FTC report Protecting Privacy in a Time of Rapid Change (122 pages) in some detailbut the gist of the recommendations, according to the Times writers, is “that companies adopt simpler, more transparent, and streamlined ways of presenting consumers with their options…” Given the amount of information that the government is collecting about citizens, perhaps it, too, needs a simpler and transparent privacy policy.

Three related privacy posts from MediaTechParenting include:

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