Keeping Kids Safe and their Data Private in the Digital Age

Apr 24, 2013 11:30am

by Jeff Bermant, Founder & CEO, Virtual World Computing | Cocoon

I have three children and over the years I have bought countless computers, phones and tablets. Our children seem to be using devices at a younger and younger age, and there are studies to prove it.

One recent study by Commonsense Media found that 22 percent of 5- to 8-year-olds use computers once a day, and more than a third of children under the age of 8 have used a mobile device – either cell phones or tablets – to watch movies, play games and use apps. While the Internet creates countless opportunities for kids to engage and learn online, it is essential that parents learn about best practices and use the available technology to protect their kids.

Here are a few tips and new tools to make it easier to help protect your children in the real and virtual world, ensuring they can surf, play and learn safely.

1.  Be Web Wise

According to a Science Daily article, “Four out of five children can’t tell when they are talking to an adult posing as a child on the Internet, according to researchers working on software to track pedophiles online.” 

Teach your children how to interact safely with people they meet online. Be sure your kids understand they should never provide personally identifiable information about themselves, their current whereabouts, where they live or even what school they attend.

Your children may deal with situations online such as bullying, unwanted contact, or hurtful comments. Work with them on strategies for when problems arise, such as talking to a trusted adult, not retaliating, blocking the person, or filing a complaint. Agree on steps to take if the strategy fails.

2. Set Clear Expectations

As parents, we all have those tough “conversations”: drugs, the birds and the bees, where are you going and the like. Parents must set expectations about how our kids will use the Internet. We set curfews, bedtimes, chores, etc., and now we need to set boundaries for online surfing,  even from a cell phone. Set boundaries about:

  • The types of websites your kids are allowed to visit
  • Who they are allowed to socialize with online
  • How much time they are allowed to be online at all, including study time and mobile browsing

Online safety can be a shared, positive experience. Surf the Internet with them. Appreciate your children’s participation in their online communities and show interest in their friends. Try to react constructively when they encounter inappropriate material and make it a teachable moment. 

3. Activate Parental Controls

Kids may accuse parents of “spying” on them, but respectfully monitoring their online activity provides a check-in to ensure those expectations you’ve set are being met. Parental controls are a great way to be proactive about your child’s online safety and activities.  When enabling parental controls, use age-appropriate settings to filter, monitor and block your child’s activities.

Our company, Virtual World Computing, has worked to develop CocoonKids for KlaasKids, a new free tool to provide parents with a free browser plug-in designed to protect children from corporate tracking and family computers from malware. Parents can lock it into “Kid Mode,” ensuring kids only browse a parent-sourced whitelist of recommended, appropriate and safe websites. Accessing sites beyond CocoonKids for KlaasKids requires parental permission.

4. Discuss “Reputation Management

Colleges and prospective employers alike are reviewing the online presence of their applicants to ensure they are accepting qualified, appropriate candidates. Kids and teens may not fully comprehend the damage that can be done - or the permanent trace that can be left - from their online photos and comments.

  • Keep up to date on Facebook security settings, and ensure your kids keep tight settings.
  • “Friend” your kids on Facebook and other social media outlets so you can see who they are friends with, what photos they are posting, etc. And make sure they do not have a “parent-friendly” Facebook page just for you to friend. (Yes, they really do that.)
  • Educate your kids about the importance of appropriate social decorum online, and the long-term impact their digital presence can have on their dreams and career options.

5. Protect Your Child’s Identity

The past two years, the FTC has reported that 8 percent of identity theft cases involve kids. Further, a 2011 study by Carnegie Mellon University discovered that 10.2 percent (4,311) of the children in the report had someone else using their Social Security number – 51 times higher than the 0.2% rate for adults in the same population.

In response to such issues, the Utah Attorney General has started the Child Identity Program (CIP) that provides parents a secure means to place their children in the TransUnion “high risk fraud” database. While this is not available in other states, it is important for parents to monitor their child’s credit regularly by pulling reports from the three major reporting agencies. Individuals are allowed to pull a report once a year for monitoring purposes free of charge.

Consider this case from the Carnegie Mellon report: AllClear ID discovered that a 17-year-old girl has over $725,000 in debt. Her Social Security number was linked to eight different suspects. The suspects opened 42 open accounts including mortgages, auto loans, credit cards, and bills in collections including medical, credit cards, and utilities.

6. Protect Your Child, Period.   

Technology can help us diminish the risk of the most unspeakable tragedies from occurring. Marc Klaas of the KlaasKids Foundation has been working to protect kids since his daughter Polly was kidnapped and murdered twenty years ago. He recently unveiled new technology tools to help parents keep their kids safe and to help find missing children.

  • The first three hours is the most essential if a child is missing. Polly’s Guardian Angel is the nation’s first parent-initiated missing child smartphone alert application. It’s a smartphone app that empowers parents to instantly mobilize friends, neighbors, and other members of the community to help in the search for a missing child.
  • The LEO Wristwatch has a titanium infused steel wristwatch/cell phone with a GPS Child Locator that can only be removed by the parent. It includes a 911 panic button if the child is in trouble.
  •  Search for other tools you trust to keep you and your children safe online and in the real world.