Parents and regulators taking more steps to protect kids while they’re online

Kids are spending more time online.

Kids are spending more time online.

It’s no surprise that 93 percent of teenagers ages 12 – 17 now go online regularly, and that 73 percent of them also have profiles on social networking sites, according to Netsmartz.org. What may be more of a shock to some is that a report issued by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center found that 31 percent of children between the ages of 8 and 10 own cell phones. Additionally, the report noted, children ages 8 – 18 are, on average, exposed to media such as TV, cell phones and video games for a whopping 10.75 hours a day.

With cell phone and internet use occurring more often and at a younger age, parents should consider how best to protect their children from online threats, and talk to them about risky online behavior. Thankfully, new regulations may be able to better protect web-connected kids and help parents teach their kids about staying safe online.

Protecting kids while they’re online
In December 2012, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission updated the Children’s Online Protection Policy Act (COPPA) to better protect children online. The new legislation, which takes affect on July 1, regulates how websites can “collect, distribute or use the personal information of children under 13.”

Personal information includes everything from photographs to videos to geographical location. The law also impacts how “persistent identifiers,” like mobile device identification, can be used to track information across multiple platforms, devices and websites, unless companies are only using the data internally.  Apps that are marketed to kids will have to get parental approval before collecting and sending information to third parties.

Minyanville.com’s Christopher Witrak wrote recently about the COPPA changes, the threats that kids and teens face when they go online, and potential loopholes that companies can take advantage of.

“Developers of ads and software only have to adhere to this ban on personal information gathering if they possess ‘actual knowledge’ that the website or app featuring their content targets children,” wrote Witrak. “For example, Facebook‘s ‘Like’ button software and advertisements hosted by ad networks will not land their creators in legal trouble if they lack any way of knowing that the hosting site aims its content at children.”

Educating parents
While it’s important for kids to learn about the dangers they may face online, parents also need to be aware of the potential risks so they can keep their children safe. The Calgary Herald reported recently that Alberta, Canada is now offering parents a web-based class that teaches them about online risks that may affect their children. According to the writer, Jessica Bell, ALERT’s Child Exploitation unit identified more than 440 cases of online child exploitation that were investigated in Alberta in 2012. Additionally, they reported that one in three Canadian teenagers accepted a Facebook friend request from a stranger.

The class, called Internet Savvy, educates parents about the risks that kids face online, from social network sites to online marketing to cyberbullying. At the start of the class, parents are asked questions about their child’s online life – and most answer only one of five questions correctly.

“We’re trying to create an awareness among parents that we don’t know as much as we think we know about what our kids are doing and that we do need to have those open conversations with our children and we do need to be aware of what our children are doing,” said Sarita Dighe-Bramwell, manager of policy and casework at Canadian Human Services, in an interview with Bell.

Kids and social media
Although Facebook and other social media sites make it challenging for parents to monitor their kids’ online activity, Caringforkids.com listed recommendations from the Canadian Pediatric Society that are intended to educate parents about how their children can use social media responsibly. 

  • Ask kids about how they’re using social media to talk to their friends.
  • Develop rules and best practices for how kids use each site (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), since different sites have unique privacy settings.
  • Discuss appropriate times of day to access social media.
  • Set limits for the amount of time spent on social media.
  • Supervise kids’ online activity (this might involve reviewing their social media accounts, cell phone use or moving their computer into a common area).
  • Outline what they are and aren’t permitted to do on social media sites (kinds of content they can post, who they can talk to).
  • Explain the consequences if they break any rules.

Parents may also want to consider investing in computer monitoring software that allows them to block applications, regulate what digital content their kids can access, how long they spend online and track which websites kids visit.

Do you have any other tips for parents looking to protect their kids online? Please share your thoughts below!

Kate Beckham

Kate has been lighting up the blogosphere for over 5 years, with a keen interest in social media and new malware threats. When not sitting at a café behind her Mac, you’ll usually find her scouring the racks for vintage finds or playing guitar.