Even children and young people surf the world wide web on a daily basis. But what do they get up to on their smartphones and PCs? From cyber-mobbing to careless sharing of data – the risks and hazards to children and young people on the Internet are particularly high. In this blog post, we examine what role parents and teachers can play in terms of providing data protection for the younger generation.
Data protection has nothing to do with age. This view is also shared by the authors of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It even includes the following clause: ‘Children merit specific protection with regard to their personal data, as they may be less aware of the risks, consequences and safeguards concerned and their rights in relation to the processing of personal data.’
After all, anyone, regardless of their age, who is active online leaves behind tracks – of data. From search engine requests to browsing histories, location data, social media posts, cookies and so on, everything is carefully collected and analysed by providers keen to gain information about the behaviour of individual users. Based on this, they learn about people’s preferences and can use personalised advertising and content to create an appetite for (unnecessary) consumption or exert influence in other ways.
Many people – but especially children and young people – have little or no awareness of their digital footprint. Likewise, they are equally unaware that the Internet remembers everything. Once uploaded to social media, data such as a baby photo or a snapshot of a wild teenage party often remains accessible there indefinitely. Depending on the selected privacy settings, this data may also be accessible to persons who should not see these images and who may even distribute them against the wishes of the people featured in them.
Quite apart from that, it is important to remember that criminals are not only at large on the Internet but also interested in our data, which they use to make money from spam and phishing attacks. There is also a danger that children and young people will come across content that is not age-appropriate or will visit web pages that contain malware. Last but not least, they can also get into contact with persons whose behaviour is inappropriate.
Data protection tips for parents
The role of parents in relation to data protection for minors is enormously important as they are the people who can exert the greatest influence. But how can they provide the best possible protection for their children’s personal data on the web? We have five tips for you:
Be a role model
Set a good example as a parent. Demonstrate to your children that they should take data protection seriously and should be careful about what information they share about themselves on the world wide web. Explain why it is important not to share their personal data carelessly and to deal responsibly with data belonging to other people, such as friends.
Set basic rules for using smartphones and other devices
Decide together with your child how long they can use the PC, tablet and smartphone and for what purpose. Ask your child to talk to you before downloading apps or entering their data on a web page.
Use Social Media platforms safely
Especially in the beginning, you should supervise your child’s use of social media platforms. Explain to them that they should be careful about sharing information such as their name, address and telephone number, which can be used to trace them personally. It is advisable to keep a close eye on privacy settings because these can sometimes be changed during updates – suddenly content that you thought was private may be publicly visible. Make your child aware that it is not easy to delete something once it has been posted and that it is worth considering what impression their personal opinions can create, for example. Explain to them that fraudsters are also active in social networks and that not all links lead to secure sites.
Pay attention to security
Show your child that malware also poses a threat and that it is important to use a firewall and virus protection, and to create regular backups. Explain how important it is that they use strong authentication methods for logins in order to protect their personal data.
Check that measures to protect children and young people are used
Internet browsers and operating systems offer integrated child protection functions and family filters that can block inappropriate content. This allows parents to define different profiles depending on age and time of day. If different family members share the same computer, we recommend creating separate user accounts. This allows you to create different user profiles with and without child protection measures.
Data protection lessons at school
Parents don’t always set a good example when it comes to data protection – and can be careless about posting photos and information about themselves and their children. This is why teachers at school also have a role to play. After parents, the role of teachers is also important when it comes to promoting the data awareness and digital skills of children and young people. It is no coincidence that some areas are calling for the introduction of data protection as a compulsory subject at schools. The debate on this topic is only just beginning. However, teaching materials are already available to teachers who want to make their students more aware of the digital importance of data protection.
For instance, Digital Education Meets School (DigiBitS) is a project initiated by the non-profit association ‘Deutschland sicher im Netz e.V.’, which aims to promote greater IT security in Germany. It even includes an exchange and networking programme with partner schools. Teachers also have access to resources that include teaching or training materials. Switzerland, for example, operates a programme called Youth and Media – Information portal for the promotion of media skills. It supports parents as well as teachers with extensive information on the topic of media skills. The website provides teachers with tips but also teaching resources and other useful links.