Five Steps to Protect Your Child’s Data on the Internet

April 24, 2017  • Nicole Corea

For parents of children and teenagers, the internet can be a scary place. Sensationalized news stories have us all nervous about hackers and potential predators. This is reflected in the public discourse, which tends to emphasize the dangers of the internet while not giving enough credit to the technology as a positive learning tool. To better understand the ways in which young people learn today, and will learn in the future, the Aspen Institute created the Task Force on Learning and the Internet. This group of experts created a guide to serve as a framework for dialogue and action among the learning community’s many stakeholders. The guide addresses how to balance the need for student’s privacy and security, while at the same time spurring innovation and engagement.

Instead of relying on purely defensive measures for protection such as filtering and monitoring, the guide suggests that parents should work together with students, educators, and tech developers to create “trusted environments” that allow young people to pursue their interests safely. This will help keep their children’s data secure while allowing for greater learning. Here are five steps for parents to help initiate these conversations and exercise more control in online learning.

Look into educational organizations that have taken steps to address transparency about data security.

Websites like Khan Academy and Schoolzilla provide details on what information is gathered, how they use that information, and what is done to protect it. For example, Khan Academy’s privacy notice says that parental consent is required for children under 13 years old. If your child has registered without your permission, you can alert the website and request that his or her personal information be removed from their system. These best practices can be used as a comparison when learning about data privacy issues across learning platforms.

Engage your child in discussions about creating a trusted environment and actively listen to his or her perspective.

Have an open conversation about what a trusted environment means to your child. What is their definition of trust and when do they feel safe? Ask what websites they are using at school, home, and during their extracurricular activities. Explore their reactions to different scenarios that could arise online such as cyber bullying or a request for personally identifiable information. It is important to define what information your family feels comfortable sharing online.

Find out what data is collected by learning websites that your child uses and how that information is protected and stored.

Big data is no longer reserved solely for businesses. Information about your child’s behavior is being tracked, profiled, and potentially shared. Look for each website’s terms and agreements of service. Are they clear and transparent about how data is used and stored? Learn whether user data can be sold or if this requires permission. Remember to address websites that your children may be using in each of their learning environments — at home, school, and community-based organizations. Then stay informed about any changes related to your child’s participation.

Ask how you can be involved in the decision-making process related to your child’s internet usage.

Who makes the decisions about which websites your child uses? Some schools employ central decision-making where principals and other head administrators set the agenda. Others allow teachers to make individual decisions for their classrooms. It is important to know what research these decision makers conduct beforehand regarding a website’s privacy, security, and access, especially for learners under the age of 13. Ask your child’s teacher or administrators if you can participate in meetings about data privacy and security at school. If no meetings are currently taking place, initiate one and include stakeholders such as tech developers in your community.

Take advantage of high quality content on the Internet.

The Internet can be a powerful learning tool, yet knowing where to find high quality content is often difficult. The task force identified a number of emerging products that can help. These include:

  • Common Sense: a website that provides ratings and reviews of apps, games, websites, and digital curricula contributed by teachers
  • The Federal Registry for Educational Excellence (FREE): a site created by the US Department of Education that includes a directory of over 400,000 learning resources organized by subject and standard
  • Gooru: a search engine designed to find high quality interactive learning materials
  • Summit Learning: a free student-directed learning system with a curriculum developed and maintained by teachers

Learning today goes well beyond the walls of the classroom. It is important for parents, students, educators, and tech developers to establish an open line of communication to best serve the needs of today’s families. The Aspen Institute Guide for Creating Trusted Learning Environments was created with the generous support of the MacArthur Foundation.

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