The biggest privacy issue my parents had to worry about was whether or not I gave out personal information over the home phone (from the rotary dial antique). Now I, and parents around the world, have to deal with technology at the tip of nearly every fingertip, and the vulnerability our kids have to the videotaping and photo-snapping whims of anyone and everyone – and the limitless sharing of those images in the viral world.
Do Laws Protect My Kids Online?
Yes – there are laws protecting children from sexual predators and even cyber-bullying. But what about those grey areas – can anyone post images and videos of my children online, without my consent? According to COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998), there are laws regulating the participation of children under the age of 13 in online activities. This is the law that inhibits Facebook from accepting page creations from those younger than 13, and why online marketing tools will ask users to verify that they are 13 or older. COPPA is an effort to protect children from providing private information (names, birthdates, etc.) to websites. However, this law does not prevent people from posting photographs and videos of minors without their consent, especially when taken in public settings. This is the grey area that can leave our kids vulnerable. This law is also extremely outdated (1998), and should be revisited in light of growing technology.
Waivers for Minors
Many organizations that work with youth, such as church groups, scouts, and 4-H, ask parents to sign waivers when they register their children that allow for pictures and videos of their children to be taken and shared in a public forum.
- If you are asked to sign a waiver, look for these specifics:
- The images and videos will be shared online in a public forum.
- The images and videos could be used for advertising and promotional purposes.
- Your child’s name and general address location (city) might be associated with certain videos or images.
If you’re not OK with these parameters, make sure that you speak up. It is also important, though, that you make your child aware of the restrictions you are placing on their digital privacy so that they can learn to protect themselves.
Teaching Kids to Be Safe Online
Like anything, there are extremes when it comes to parents and the privacy of their children online. Some parents don’t allow a single name or photo of their child to be posted anywhere, and others share and encourage the online documentation of every second of their kids’ lives – almost like a mini version of Kate Plus 8. I’m somewhere in between – raising teenagers who have Facebook pages, cell phones, and use You Tube. We use guidelines in our home that we hope will teach our kids how to navigate the internet, utilize opportunities the digital age provides, and stay safe in the process.
- The kids don’t get Facebook until they are at least 13. It’s about respecting the rules, as well as waiting until they are mature enough to handle situations that might arise.
- We utilize privacy settings.
- My husband and I have access to all social media accounts and passwords, and I was their first friend on Facebook.
- The kids know that we reserve the right to check their cell phones at any time, without notice.
- We utilize internet safety software, especially strict on the kids’ laptop that gets used for schoolwork.
- They know not to post any picture they wouldn’t love to have blown up to life-size and presented to their grandparents as a gift.
- We don’t allow “random strangers” to become social media friends. If they haven’t met in person, we need to approve online connections.
- We respect their rights, as well. I don’t post pictures or tales of their most embarrassing moments. Even in my writings about family, I always ask for their input before I write about situations we have encountered or experiences they have had.
Striking a Balance – Kids’ Pictures and Videos Online
We do allow our kids to have their basic personal information (i.e. name and city) images and videos posted online, and for our family these guidelines work for us. The technology infused age in which our kids live can be scary for parents, but if we give them the tools with which to navigate the information highway, we are helping them live in their time.
Just yesterday my teenage son gave a Performing Arts presentation at the state fair, and was videotaped by people in the crowd, as well as photographed by 4-H and published online. Members from the audience even approached him after his performance and asked him where he was from (to which he has learned to give a general “city” response), and one person that we know of (but whom we don’t know) videotaped him with the plans to post it to her personal Facebook page.
While these will make marks on his digital identity, the trade-offs are acceptable for our family. He is learning composure and powerful public speaking skills well beyond his years, and he is meeting people with similar passions and gaining opportunities he might not otherwise have if we kept his digital identity closed. While I might not like that I don’t have control over the images and videos people take of him when he is performing in public, as I watched him interviewed on the news I saw that his ability to present himself safely online means letting him experience the digital world. It is, after all, the world in which he lives (not the imaginary one that is so much more comfortable for us as parents!).