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Online Privacy - Children and Teens

Respecting your kids' privacy and protecting their privacy is a balancing act. Helping them understand the concepts around online privacy and how it can be compromised can lessen their chances of making an embarrassing or serious online mistake. Here are a few tips:

Personal Information

Emphasize to your kids to NEVER use their real names or give out real personal information online, whether it's on a bulletin board, forum, chat, blog - whatever.

Text on Forums and Bulletin Boards

Tell your children NEVER to put anything on a public forum they wouldn't want the whole world - including you, teachers, their friends parents - to see. Search engines often crawl these sites and can display them in search results. "Google" your kids' names periodically. This can tell you if someone else has posted something about your child or teen.

Images and Video from Cell Phones/Digital Cameras

It is incredibly easy for kids to take pictures and videos and post them online. They should be aware that pictures and videos they take - and are taken of them - can come back to haunt them down the road when they show up online. One of the biggest challenges for teens is to resist taking videos of people and posting them online without their consent.

Viral Information and Its Longevity

When text, images, videos, and other data get posted somewhere on the Internet, it can often be impossible to "take back." In addition to being posted on Web pages and indexed in search engines, these pieces of personal information are spread throughout the Internet via e-mail, chat rooms, instant messages, etc. More often than not, once something gets online it can't be taken back or undone.

Don't Be Intimidated by Your Computer

Even if you don't know much about computers, don't emphasize this to your teens. Suggest to them there is nothing they can do on a computer you can't find out about. If your children feel they know a lot more about the computer than you, that can empower them to behave inappropriately online because they assume you are clueless.

Build a Virtual Fortress

  • Have a good Internet security program - firewall, anti-virus software, parental controls - installed on your computer and use them. Do NOT assume, however, that just because you have parental controls turned on, there is no need to monitor what your kids are doing online.
  • Keep your virus definitions up to date and scan your computer for viruses at least once a week.
  • Be extra diligent if you have multiple Windows login accounts AND multiple AOL accounts. This dual type of login can compromise your personal data if you are not very careful about who is logged into Windows and AOL at the same time.

Run Anti-Spyware Utilities Weekly

In addition to Internet security, running adware utilities such as Ad-Aware Plus by Lavasoft regularly is essential. No matter how strong a fortress you put around your computer, spyware and data miners are going to get on your computer and often in your operating system registry.

Keep Business and Kids Separate

If you use your computer for your business or profession, try to avoid letting your kids surf the Internet on that machine. This is especially true if you have sensitive data such as client information, credit card numbers, account numbers, etc. Better yet, don't store sensitive data directly on your computer. Use an external hard drive or it to CD.

Be Your Children's Computer Administrator

Even if your kids have their own computers, set yourself up as the computer administrator with a higher level of authority so if they put passwords or other blocks up, you can override them.

Know How to Look "Under the Hood"

You can look at your Web browser's cache to see what Web sites have been accessed and which "cookies" have been picked up. There are also other places where Internet information is stored such as in the statistics utilities of Internet security software.


E-mail is a great communications tool but spam is a big problem. A lot of spam is not appropriate for children. There are utility programs that can be run prior to opening an e-mail client that can help prevent this.

Chain Letters

Instruct your children NEVER to forward e-mail chain letters. These are letters that often promise a reward or good luck if they are forwarded to everyone you know. Each time these chain letters are forwarded, all the e-mails in the chain letter are presented to the new recipients. This allows total strangers to see the e-mail addresses of the previous recipients - including yours or your child's. It also increases the chance of spreading computer viruses.

Your Internet Signature

Do you have high-speed Internet access? Chances are you have a "fixed IP address." This is a unique number that identifies your computer on the Internet. Web sites generate log files that can track IP addresses for computers that visit the site. If your child does something on a Web site that is against a site's rules, your IP address could get banned. If Web site operators share banned IP address information, you might find you can't access a particular Web site because your IP address is blocked.


Hotlinking is where someone on a forum or blog links directly to an image from another Web site. Unless the site owner of the image gives your child permission to hotlink to the picture, your child is stealing bandwidth from the site operator and (may be violating copyright laws). Teens and young adults on My Space and similar forums are notorious for this. What they don't realize is that the site operator can identify them from the Web site logs and catch them.

...and Copyrighted Materials

Some people get around the hotlinking issue by copying images from a Web site and putting them in an account at Most kids don't realize if they are stealing if they post these pictures on a forum, especially if they try to pass them off as their own.

There's a LOT More...

These are just a few basic issues regarding children and teens online. By being aware of these vulnerabilities, your can protect your children and at the same time, they can have a positive and educational online experience.

Children and Teen Internet Safety Links

The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet

Teeming with chatrooms, online discussion groups, and blogs, the Internet offers previously unimagined opportunities for personal expression and communication. But there sa dark side to the story. A trail of information fragments about us is forever preserved on the Internet, instantly available in a Google search. A permanent chronicle of our private lives often of dubious reliability and sometimes totally false will follow us wherever we go, accessible to friends, strangers, dates, employers, neighbors, relatives, and anyone else who cares to look. This engrossing book, brimming with amazing examples of gossip, slander, and rumor on the Internet, explores the profound implications of the online collision between free speech and privacy.Daniel Solove, an authority on information privacy law, offers a fascinating account of how the Internet is transforming gossip, the way we shame others, and our ability to protect our own reputations. Focusing on blogs, Internet communities, cybermobs, and other current trends, he shows that, ironically, the unconstrained flow of information on the Internet may impede opportunities for self-development and freedom. Long-standing notions of privacy need review, the author contends unless we establish a balance between privacy and free speech, we may discover that the freedom of the Internet makes us less free.