How To Talk to Your Kids About Sharing Personal Information Online

boy with headphones on laptop with a thought bubble indicating he's sharing personal information online

As parents, it's crucial we educate our children about the dangers of sharing personal information online. Kids are spending more and more time online, making it more important than ever to teach them about online safety and data privacy. In this article, we’ll discuss what counts as personal information, why it's vital to keep that information private online, and what to do if your child accidentally shares personal data. We'll also provide discussion starters for talking to your kids about the importance of online privacy.

What Counts as Personal Information Online?

“Personal information” can mean many different things, especially to your kids, who may have never before come across the topic. The list below is a summary of different types of personal information that your child should know is private and sensitive. Take the time to go through this list item by item to ensure your child understands each one well:

  • Full name
  • Street address
  • City and state of residence
  • Phone numbers
  • Email addresses
  • Birthdate
  • Birth month or year
  • School name
  • Images of themselves or their family
  • Usernames and passwords
  • GPS location information
  • Names of family members and friends
  • Health information

Keep in mind that personal information doesn’t only include text-based information. It can also include pictures or videos that reveal personal information, such as school uniforms, street signs, or house numbers. 

Even seemingly innocent information, like the name of your child's school or their city of residence, can be used to piece together a picture of their life and whereabouts. Knowing how to protect personal information online can prevent identity theft and other data breaches. 

Why Do We Need to Keep Personal Information a Secret?

Children between the ages of 8 and 14 are still developing their understanding of the digital world and need to be made aware of the risks of sharing personal information online. Personal information, such as your name, address, phone number, or birthdate, can be used to steal your identity or commit fraud. Sharing this information on the internet can also make it easier for strangers to find and contact your child, which can put them at risk.

Additionally, posting certain information or pictures online can have long-term consequences. For instance, a future employer may search for your child online during the hiring process. If there are pictures on the internet of them at a raucous party, for example, it may jeopardize their job possibilities. By keeping personal information private, your child can protect themselves and their future.

What Happens If My Child Accidentally Shares Something They Shouldn't Have?

If your child accidentally shares personal information online, it's essential to address the situation quickly. Encourage your child to delete the post or message and to change any usernames and passwords they may have shared. 

Gently remind your child that it's important to think before sharing anything. Additionally, remind your child that even if they delete a post, it doesn't mean the information is gone forever. People can take screenshots or share the information. Make sure your child understands this point: Once something is posted online, it's there forever.  

Tips for Protecting Personal Information

The good news is there are tangible steps your child can take to protect their personal information online. Here are some tips for parents to help their child practice online safety:  

  • Encourage your child to use privacy settings on social media and other online accounts. For example, if your child is on social media, make sure their Instagram account is private, so random strangers cannot see their posts. 
  • Remind your child never to share personal information in response to an unsolicited text message, direct message, or email. 
  • Teach your child to think before posting and to consider the long-term consequences of what they share. Limiting your child’s social media usage is wise until you are confident they fully understand the implications of their digital actions. 
  • Encourage your child to use strong, unique passwords for all their online accounts.
  • Regularly check your child's social media and other online accounts to ensure they are behaving in a safe and responsible manner. A monitoring app like BrightCanary can help you keep tabs on their activity, directly from your phone.

It's also a good idea to chat with your child about what they're sharing online. Ask them to show you their social media accounts and explain what they're posting and why. This can be a great opportunity to teach them about the importance of privacy and identify potential issues with their online behavior.

Talking Points and Discussion Starters

It isn’t always easy broaching topics of safety, both in the real world and online, with your child.  Here is a list of questions and discussion starters about how to behave online and the importance of not sharing sensitive information:

  • Why is it important to keep personal information private online?
  • Can you give an example of personal information that should not be shared online?
  • What are some ways to protect personal information online?
  • What should you do if you accidentally share personal information online?
  • Why is it important to think before you post something online?
  • How can you tell if someone online is trustworthy?
  • How can you tell if a message or email is legitimate or a scam?
  • What are some potential consequences of sharing personal information online?

The Bottom Line

By starting these conversations with your child, you can help them understand how to protect personal information online and equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to stay safe. Remember, the most crucial part of protecting personal information is knowing what is being shared, and with whom. With these tips and discussion starters, you can help your child navigate the digital world safely and responsibly.

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