Protecting Personal Information: The Jigsaw Puzzle Metaphor

Parents can use the jigsaw puzzle metaphor to illustrate how easily one online person can gather personal information about another individual.

In the digital world just two revealed personal facts provide enough information to help someone figure out and learn more about a person. While today’s online kids all know not to share a combined first and last name, they are less savvy about combinations such as a first name and an athletic team or school identification — details that can be combined and used to identify even more information about a child.

The jigsaw metaphor, which I’ve used for years with fourth and fifth grade students, concretely illustrates how it’s possible to figure out information.

Think about puzzle strategy. When family members put together a jigsaw puzzle they first work on sections, finding all of the pieces of one color or pattern. A person spends a lot of time trying to put two pieces together, but almost as soon as two pieces fit together, quite a few other pieces fit together in quick succession. In the same way two pieces of personal information can be combined in the digital world, leading to the discovery of additional personal information.

Adolescents may laugh or roll their eyes at this explanation. Younger children, however, who are just beginning to explore the digital world, do listen to conversations like this. The more discussions, the more children build a foundation of  information that can be used to support future digital behavior. This information just might pop into a child’s head when he or she has to make a challenging digital decision during the teenage years.

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