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Do Kids Deserve Digital Privacy? 3 Myths Debunked for Smart Parents

The question of whether kids and teens deserve online privacy carries profound implications. Comparing your childhood with your child's might lead you to think that your kid deserves the same level of privacy you enjoyed.

However, technology has drastically altered the notion of privacy. The truth is that your child's "privacy" exists within the safe confines of your home and the darkest corners of the internet.

Myth 1: Monitoring my child’s device invades their privacy

Many parents feel that checking their child’s online activities is an invasion of their privacy. However, kids and parents need to understand the inherent fallacy of online privacy. Anything searched for, generated, or engaged with on the internet is not private, and many strangers have access to that information. This is known as digital visibility, and the faster kids understand this, the safer their online choices will be.

The role of parents in digital visibility

Digital visibility always exists, and parents play a critical role in helping their kids see that digital privacy is an illusion. Monitoring their online activity is necessary to ensure their safety. There is no inherent right to online privacy; if kids seek privacy they should explore avenues beyond the digital realm, like keeping a personal journal, or going old school and talking on the phone.

Related: A Father’s Place: A Police Officer’s Unique Perspective

Myth 2: My kid is different and would never do... (fill in the blank)

Parents often believe their kids are immune to online pitfalls. They have good kids and trust them. And their kids are good! However, exposure to danger is not a prize for being trustworthy or mature. Kids’ brains are still developing, making it difficult to exercise the kind of judgment needed in online spaces. When handing a device to your child, remember that they are children and can inadvertently (and at times purposefully) stumble into trouble. 

The tale of a regretful choice

One mom shared her regretful experience of allowing her 11-year-old daughter unmonitored access to digital devices. After discovering concerning content on her daughter’s phone, including inappropriate images, sexual content, interactions that seemed like grooming, profanity, and mean-girl behavior, she anguished, 

I am less than proud to say that I am THAT PARENT who thought my 11-year-old daughter would be different. And she wasn't. Everyone was right and I royally messed up. I found all of the things that I was warned about on her phone, and have since taken away ALL electronics. She will not be getting them back.
My question is how do I work to undo all of the crap that the tech world taught her? How do I salvage what is left of her 11-year-old spirit since I allowed her to see and experience too many things on her phone? How do I repair my daughter back to her sweet 11-year-old self?
I trusted her repeatedly and she found ways around it all. She is a great kid who is kind, funny, and smart. She is into multiple sports/activities, and I thought she would be different because we have always had such a good, honest relationship. She wasn't different and I never should have put the burden on her to be so.
If you do give in, check that phone every single day and hope that they are not deleting stuff. Don't trust them with this. I put all of this right in my daughter's lap and said "Have at it,” and now I can't take any of it back. Just don't even start the downward spiral with your child. Please.

The burden of digital privacy

This incident underscores an important point: Granting digital privacy to kids places an undue burden on them to navigate the internet safely. Young minds are not equipped to handle the intricacies of the online realm independently. Only adults with fully developed prefrontal cortexes possess the tools and experience to guide their children safely through this landscape. 

And even then, some adults are deceived by sextortionists online.

Related: 5 Ways Kids Brains are Super Susceptible to Porn

Myth 3: Kids need unmonitored access so they can navigate digital spaces as adults

Parents often think that if kids are restricted in their digital spaces they will not know how to use it as an adult...they will be like a kid in a candy shop. 

However, it's crucial to realize that giving children free rein in the digital world without guidance and monitoring, before their brains are fully developed, places them in harm’s way. Some digital dangers that can ensnare kids include:

No child should have to experience becoming targets of predators to comprehend the concepts of safety. Nor should they be exposed to the harms of explicit content (including self-generated!) under the guise of preparing them for the real world.

Related: Cyberbullying and Sexting -- Is Your Child’s Reputation at Risk?


Tools for parents

Fortunately, the wild, wild, west days of the internet are beginning to fade as many tools have become available to keep kids safer online. We recommend a two-pronged approach: teaching digital defense skills and utilizing technology to monitor your child’s devices.

1. Digital defense skills

Related: The Compelling Science Behind Good Pictures Bad Pictures

2. Technology: Monitoring and filtering tools

  • Home routers with parental controls, such as Gryphon, are important for monitoring devices connected to WiFi, especially those tricky ones like smart TVs and gaming devices. They often have an option to block VPNs, which kids sometimes use to get around router controls. Several brands exist, so research to see which one fits your family’s needs.
  • Filtering software is another important layer of protection for devices that are not always connected to home WiFi, such as phones and school computers. A couple of options are Canopy, which uses AI to detect and block nudity (including self-generated); and Bark, which monitors and alerts parents to potential dangers.
  • Safe smartphones exist to fit your child’s needs. The variety covers a wide range of restrictiveness ranging from only allowing talk and text, to a broad suite of apps including a browser. We love that there are so many choices that fit many age ranges. Explore the best smartphones for kids in this comparison.

Last word: A responsible approach to digital privacy

While the idea of granting children privacy may be rooted in fostering independence and trust, it's important to recognize that the online world operates by a different set of rules. When kids enter that world without parental guidance, an undue burden is placed on them to keep themselves safe and to behave appropriately. Parents can alleviate that burden by participating in their child’s digital world through monitoring and mentoring. 

Remember, you're not invading their privacy; you're acting as a digital co-pilot, guiding them toward a safer, more secure future.

Brain Defense: Digital Safety Curriculum - Family Edition

"Parents are desperate for concepts and language like this to help their children. They would benefit so much from this program - and I think it would spur much needed conversations between parents and children.” --Jenet Erikson, parent

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