On July 1, the new rules updating the Children’s On Line Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) took effect. The rules are intended to stay current with social media applications, which typically gather personal data from the user in order to aggregate and profile for commercial use. Industry experts in the NBC News report indicated that these rules put the parent in charge of managing personal data for their child; and some claim that the new rules will discourage development of quality children’s apps, and the requirements of parent permission may encourage kids to seek adult sites (where they can enter a date of birth to qualify without permission).
(For a quick guide on how to evaluate your child’s apps, go to Kids’ App InfoGraphic from the FTC.)
In the end, it is up to the parent to inspect what you expect. Know the applications children are using, establish guidelines for their access and usage, and monitor use as an opportunity to bond around personal interests and security.
No doubt cyber connectivity is a very dynamic, seductive process at our finger tips. It is an increasingly dominant mode of communication and children have access to wireless devices at very early ages, and are primary consumers. Recently the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future published a study affirming that Internet connectivity is becoming a new norm for children with points of access expanding (77 percent at home, and 79 percent at school, and 45 percent elsewhere). The study also indicated that the average age for issuing mobile phones is 13 and approving a Facebook account is 15. Anecdotal data from my interviews with educators and law enforcement indicate younger (eight years for phones and 12 for social media).
Over the past decade of fieldwork and research, I observed a fearful uncertainty and intimidated response in our parenting culture as children display the “smarty pants syndrome” demanding to be trusted and expecting privacy and autonomy regarding matters, on and off line, that require the wisdom and life experience they do not yet possess.
A recent Pew Study shows a gap between what teens and parents believe about sharing personal information in social media. According to this survey 94% of teens surveyed use Facebook and they are comfortable sharing personal data with privacy settings. Some of the information that teens are sharing and managing include real name, photo, school, town, email address and phone number. Parents, on the other hand, expressed concern about stranger access, commercial exploitation and management of their child’s reputation.
Can parental controls protect children?
In the network culture, there are three realms of personal safety:
- Physical (our person and belongings, home and car)
- Cyber (smart phones/social media and other applications)
- Hearts and minds (beliefs, values, emotions)
The younger the child, the more strategic the role of parental control settings when used in conjunction with consistent ground rules, and personal engagement and oversight. Think of these tools as training wheels on a bicycle, which in short order are removed as the child quickly learns to balance and steer on her own. Note that a focus on the cyber realm will provide some measure of safety for a very brief period, but the security children require in the network is actually cultivated in their own hearts and minds. “Parental control” in this sense is an illusion.
Dealing with the “smarty pants” syndrome
Explain to your children that freedom always involves limits, and the boundaries that keep you free are the ones that teach you how to avoid risky traps (bullying, predators, drugs and alcohol, financial indebtedness). When our children can sense that the objective of house rules is to help them use their God-given liberty to think for themselves and be free from the manipulations of others, it is easier to embrace them as their own.
Below are some considerations for governing your home:
Family-approved app list
Establish a “family approved app list” which lists all of the apps that have been pre-approved for downloading by family members. The family-approved app list will train your child to think before they download. How is this app serving me and my family? What are the criteria? Have I reviewed the merits and potential problems of using this app with my mom or dad?
Use of texting must be with the understanding that parents will conduct random checks and that all the communications will be “E” for everyone. Drill it into children’s heads that there is no privacy in the net. Free texting and video chat apps are easily accessed via wireless mobile devices, so be clear with your child about what apps you are approving and add them to the family-approved app list.
If it is possible to hold off until your child is 16 years old to create a Facebook, Instagram, kik, Tumblr, or other social media account – that would be ideal. For kids younger than 16 years old check out YourSphere http://www.YourSphere.com, a kid-friendly, social media network designed by kids and governed by cyber security experts to ensure that there is security in their social connections and content is appropriate.
About house rules
Make a list of the house rules you would like to have in place for your child that would make you feel better and less stressed, and help your children learn to become responsible, self-sufficient members of your household. Include curfew, chores, homework, and use of texting and social media. What would they be? Don’t edit them. Just write it down and be honest. Then review the house rules and identify the benefit to the child. If you cannot honestly name the benefit to the child, then admit it is for your convenience, or to make you feel better. Most kids will appreciate your honesty and respect the rule as a way to please you.
When the rules are designed to help children be in charge of their lives and function in the home as responsible family members, they will be more likely to embrace them as a way of living well.
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM, Tuesdays. Her next book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media will be released in the fall 2013.
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- Email: Jullien@surewest.net