Teaching Kids About Privacy in an Attention-Obsessed World

Teaching Kids About Privacy in an Attention-Obsessed World

Young girl takes selfie without thinking of her digital privacy

In today’s “pics or it didn’t happen” culture, we’ve all gotten used to—and, let’s face it, kind of hooked on—that rush you feel from yet another like or favorite on social media. And while of course many people use Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms to stay connected and share their daughters’ milestones with loved ones who live far away, these new technologies and the constant streams of praise we can get from them have largely made us into a generation of over-sharers.

From vacation snaps and outfits of the day to intimate family moments, many of us proudly post what used to be considered private moments for everyone to view, comment on, like, and share as they see fit. Some might consider it bragging, but much of this “showing off” often comes from good intentions—we’re proud of our lives, our accomplishments, and our families, and want to share the joy and beauty we see with others.

The problem is that once posted online, even to a “private” account only shared with family and friends, those photos and bits of information can be reposted, shared via screenshot, and otherwise disseminated to perfect strangers. As Kalinda Raina, cybersecurity expert and head of global privacy at LinkedIn puts it, “Whatever you do on your phone, on your tablet, whatever you say to your digital assistant or say near it while it’s waiting for you to give it a command—it all creates data, everything has a digital record these days.” In other words? There may be no such thing as actual digital privacy, even when you’re trying your best to keep the information you share limited to a certain group.

When many adults aren’t drawing a line between public and private, one can imagine how it could be hard for kids to understand that distinction, which can leave them vulnerable to predators and other problems online.

Additionally, the over-sharing trend complicates and confuses friendships and other social relationships, sometimes leading to more superficial connections and fewer close, meaningful ones—which isn’t great for anyone, let alone children, who rely on the strength of friendships as they grow.

So how do you get kids to understand the concept of privacy while they’re simultaneously being flooded with images and messaging telling them how to be “Instafamous” and earn more followers? Here are a few strategies you might want to try.

Start Early with Safety
Obviously your top priority is keeping your daughter healthy and safe, so you’ll want to drill this one home, starting from a very early age. Many parents delay talking to their children about digital safety until they’re older and more connected online, but it’s never too early to get this message across to your girl. Just as you teach your toddler not to talk to or go anywhere with a stranger, you should tell her the same rules apply on tablets, phones, and gaming consoles. If someone she doesn’t know in real life wants to talk to her or asks for information like where she lives and what grade she’s in, tell her not to reply and to let you know what’s going on. Similarly, posting any identifying information, like what school she goes to, what team she plays on, or where she’ll be hanging out on the weekend, should be discouraged. Her friends might be doing this, so it may be hard to convince her it’s not safe. Try putting it this way: her favorite celebrities probably don’t post where they are in real time, because they’d be mobbed by fans and other random people when they just want to be left alone. She may not have the paparazzi following her, but there are still bad people out there who might use information about her location to creep on her. Best to keep that information to just the people who need it—her real friends and family!

Work Up to Self-Worth and Thoughtful Posting
If you have a teen or tween who’s already on social media, ask about what the likes and comments mean to her. Does she feel good about herself when a post gets a lot of positive attention? What types of posts (hers or others) get more positive attention? Has she noticed a pattern? What about when a post seems to be ignored or gets negative comments? How does that affect her? It’s very normal to feel a rush of endorphins (brain chemicals that help us feel happy) when something we’ve posted gets the thumbs up from others, and the desire for that reaction can lead some people—including kids—to post things they’d otherwise keep private just to make others happy or to get the “likes.” Suggest that she starts asking herself why she’s posting something before she posts. Let her know that it’s a privilege for anyone to know her, and that not everyone deserves to know everything about her life. Her everyday moments (yes, even silly selfies at the ice cream shop!) are precious and personal. Does she think it’s important or helpful for others to see these images—will they brighten others’ days or give them something to think about, or is she posting in hopes of getting approval from the world? Why does she need others, including strangers, to like what she’s posted? Is it not enough that she likes it herself? Talk to your daughter early and often about this issue. You’re unlikely to get her to stop sharing about her life entirely—and there’s no need for that—but getting her to do some critical thinking here can make a big difference.

Rethink Your Own Social Rules
Saying one thing to your daughter and then doing another in your own life is likely to be noticed. If you want her to think seriously about her privacy online, it’s important for you to take a step back and look at how you use social platforms yourself. Even if your privacy settings are all at the maximum, there are ways for people to get your information and see everything you have online. Think not only about the information you share about yourself, but also what you share about your family, your children, and other people in your life. When you post about your daughter—either images or anecdotes—think about whether or not she’d want it shared. Could it be embarrassing or invade her privacy in a way? Are you posting it in support of her and her interests, or of your own? Not every parent shares the same ideas about what’s OK to post about their kids online and what’s not. Talk to the other moms and dads in your daughter’s group about their feelings, and be respectful of those who don’t want their kids’ pictures posted online. Similarly, if you don’t want others sharing photos of your girl from birthday parties or other events, be sure to make those wishes known in advance. Once posted, it’s hard, if not impossible, to entirely erase an image from the internet, so it’s always better to have privacy expectations understood ahead of time than to try to fix things after a misstep.