What Parents Should Know About Privacy Online

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Privacy online means having control over information that is about you. Who can see information about you? Who can share information about you?

In conjunction with Choose Privacy Week, sponsored by the American Library Association, here are some tips on talking with your children about privacy.

1. Do a family privacy audit. Google your name and those of your children to learn what information already might be online about you.

2. Discuss with your children what privacy means— for your family, in school, with friends, and online. Children of all ages have a fundamental right to privacy online, though the nature of privacy might change with age and maturity.

3. Reinforce the message that your children have the right to control what they share about themselves, who they share it with and what others share about them. Talk together about family policies that work best for you and your child in terms of online sharing and monitoring your child’s online behavior. 

4. Take a moment to talk about the “golden rule” of privacy: how to respect other people’s privacy. Teach your child about contexts in which individuals of any age have an expectation of privacy. Any time a message is forwarded, a photo is posted, or misinformation is repeated, there’s a chance someone’s privacy is being violated.

5. Remember that sharing online is an opportunity to design a positive digital footprint. Our children grow up with online identities. The source material is wide ranging – family photo sharing sites, local newspapers’ online high school sports coverage, church youth group websites, videos of preschool performances, and so much more. Because an online profile of some sort today is nearly inevitable and can ultimately evolve into the modern version of a resume, help your child create and manage a positive “digital footprint,” or what information is available about them online.

And remember that once shared, digital media, such as cell phone photos or videos, have the potential to be endlessly shared, regardless of original intentions, and can be virtually impossible to remove.

6. Understand what you’re agreeing to when you or your children share information with commercial interests. Websites that ask for personal information in exchange for use of a “free” or paid product or service, whether it’s a social networking site, online game, store or promotion, often use the collected information in targeted advertising and to shape search results. Companies aren’t “friends” in the same way people are their friends. Encourage children to talk to you before they share their personal information with a commercial interest so you can decide together what they share and understand what they are agreeing to share. Understand that there are often different levels of sharing required to use “free” websites; some sites ask non-required questions on registration forms that you don’t need to answer in order to use the service or product. Conduct a search on the best way to clear your web browser’s cache and cookies on a regular basis. Clearing the cache ensures no one can view the sites you’ve visited. Removing cookies stops websites from collecting some data about your use of the site.

7. Get up to speed on social media and privacy and talk about it with your preteens and teens.

  • Consider a screen name: Depending on the social media service, a screen name does not have to be a real name.
  • Consider a password: Having a strong password limits the possibility that someone can log in to a social media account without your or your child’s permission. For more information on passwords, check out “How to Create Strong, Easy-to-Remember Passwords.”
  • Consider who your “friends” are: Talk with pre-teens and teens who are on Facebook or other social media sites about privacy settings to control which “friends” can see their information.
  • Consider before posting: Help your children think about how their posts would sound to a parent, a teacher, a relative, the wrong friend, a friend of a friend, or someone they don’t like. Talk to them about what is appropriate to share in a photo – remembering that information shared electronically can take on a life of its own.
  • Remember: Some sites, like Facebook, change their privacy settings frequently. Familiarize yourself with the settings each time they’re updated.


A sister site to SafeKids.com, the “Resources” link has a huge list of links to safety and privacy tips and “A Parents’ Guide to Google Plus,” Google’s social networking service. The site also includes an essay on “Internet Safety 3.0” and digital citizenship. Its “A Parent’s Guide to Facebook (PDF),” revised in 2012 by Anne Collier and Larry Magid, gives an overview of Facebook’s organization, provides tips for managing your teen’s digital footprint to maintain a positive reputation, and discusses maintaining your child’s privacy on Facebook.

Media Awareness Network Educational Games
Teach your young child, preteen, or teen about online privacy through educational games such as Privacy Pirates for ages 7-9 and a list of others.

NetSmartz Workshop
A program of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, this site provides tip sheets and engaging videos (such as “Post-To-Be Private”) to help parents teach children about privacy related to topics such as cell phones, texting, cyberbullying, online gaming, and identity theft.

One of the oldest Internet safety websites, SafeKids.com features a mix of practical articles by Larry Magid, videos, and linkable resources aimed at maintaining your child’s safety and privacy in the world of social media.

That’s Not Cool
That's Not Cool uses entertaining, but powerful digital vignettes that portray controlling, pressuring, and threatening behaviors to raise awareness about and prevent teen dating abuse, with a particular focus on violations of privacy. The site is sponsored by Futures Without Violence, the Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women, and the Advertising Council.

How online video can have a lasting impact on an individual’s privacy
The summer 2010 class of interns at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society put together a powerful video on the permanency of personal videos posted to the Internet and their lasting impact on the subject’s privacy.


Tips for managing your online privacy written by :
Helen R. Adams
Mansfield University
School Library & Information Technology Program, Pennsylvania

Frances Jacobson Harris
University Laboratory High School Library
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Screenshot from
Managing Your Kids Media Diet video at Commonsensemedia.org.

Creative Commons License


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