Making Sense

Protecting Personal Privacy Online

Help your kids learn the risks of revealing personal information online.
Caroline Knorr Parenting Editor | Mom of one Categories: Internet safety and privacy
Parenting Editor | Mom of one

Help kids manage their privacy.

  • Explain to kids that they can safeguard their privacy

  • Make sure social network privacy settings are set to the most restricted levels

  • Explain to kids that what they post is never as private as they think

  • Encourage kids to self-reflect before they self-reveal

  • No geo-location applications are age-appropriate for kids and teens

  • Make sure kids know to respect other people's privacy

It's a culture of sharing

Our kids live in a culture of sharing that has forever changed the concept of privacy. In a world where everyone is connected and anything created can get copied, pasted, and sent to thousands of people in a heartbeat, privacy starts to mean something different than simply guarding personal or private information. Each time your child fills out a profile without privacy controls, comments on something, posts a video, or texts a picture of themselves to friends, they potentially reveal themselves to the world.

Why privacy matters

Digital life is very public and often permanent. If our kids don't protect their privacy, what they do online will create digital footprints that wander and persist. Something that happens on the spur of the moment -- a funny picture, a certain post -- can resurface years later. And if kids aren't careful, their reputations can get away from them and third parties -- like marketers or potential employers -- can access what kids thought was private information.

Your kids may think they just sent something to a friend -- but that friend can send it to a friend’s friend, who can send it to their friends’ friends, and so on. That’s how secrets become headlines and how false information spreads fast and furiously. The stakes only rise when we remember that everything takes place in front of huge invisible audiences. Kids’ deepest secrets can be shared with thousands of people they’ve never even met.

New technologies make controlling privacy more challenging. With GPS-enable cell phones and location-sharing programs, kids can post their whereabouts. This information can go out to friends, strangers, and companies who will show them ads targeted to their location. 

Advice for parents

  • Explain that nothing is really private. No matter what kids think. Privacy settings aren’t infallible. It’s up to kids to protect themselves by thinking twice before they post something that could damage their reputation or that someone else could use to embarrass or hurt them.
  • Teach kids to keep personal information private. Help kids define what information is important for them to keep private when they're online. We recommend that kids not share their addresses, phone numbers, or birth dates.
  • Make sure your kids use privacy settings on their social network pages. Encourage kids to really think about the nature of their relationships (close friends, family, acquaintances, strangers) and adjust their privacy settings accordingly.
  • Remind kids to protect their friends' privacy. Passing along a rumor or identifying someone in a picture (called "tagging") affects their privacy. If your kids are tagged in friends’ photos, they can ask to have the photos or the tags removed. But there’s not too much they can do beyond that.
  • Establish a few hard-and-fast rules about posting. No nude or semi-nude photos or videos -- ever. Not online, not via mobile phone (known as "sexting"). No pictures of doing drugs, drinking, or having sex.
  • Remind kids that the Golden Rule applies. What goes around comes around. If kids spread a rumor or talk trash about a teacher, they can't assume that what they post will stay private. Whatever they say can come back to haunt them in more ways than they can imagine.
  • Help kids think long term. Everything leaves a digital footprint. Whatever gets created may never go away. If they don’t want tosee it tomorrow, they'd better not post it today.

Download resources in Spanish

Download our Privacy Tip Sheet in Spanish.

About Caroline Knorr

As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for... Read more

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