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Help your child protect privacy in a cyber-powered world

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Edward Snowden’s message on Christmas day expresses a genuine concern for privacy trampled by the mass government-sponsored global surveillance of ordinary people. He expresses two main concerns: 1) the surrender of privacy today with networked surveillance as a giant leap well beyond the “Orwellian Big Brother oppression” depicted in 1984, and 2) our children today will grow up without even knowing the value and importance of privacy to their very personal liberty to live without being tracked and their thoughts analyzed.

In a globally networked world, there is a concern for children being conditioned correctly about their privacy.

The privacy issues our children face in their on-line worlds involve sharing too much and thereby exposing them to the snares of cyberbully trauma, sexual exploitation, and digital footprints that haunt future endeavors. And yet every law enforcement officer will tell you that the universal mistake parents make in a cyber-powered world is granting children privacy.

Teaching privacy in the social network: Keep it simple

Privacy is something that must be defended by first recognizing that we have the personal choice to not make something public in the first place.

For example, Officer Doug Morse of the Sacramento City Police Department is concerned that teens are creating permanent records of juvenile illegal behavior which could adversely influence their future employment opportunities. “Posting on-line illegal behavior, such as underage drinking, or assault essentially creates a permanent record and it speaks to your personal credibility and your moral or ethical attitudes which may not be accurate,” he said. “But will require awkward explanation at the very least.”

Address confusion between private and secret.

When children and parents are confused about private and secret it leaves children vulnerable to exploitation. Bad actors capitalize on this confusion and manipulate with great skill the personal information your children post on social media (Twitter, Instagram, Kik, texting) – including the acts of exploitation. And so children are being harmed in plain sight.

Debbie Johnson, founder and CEO of Without Permission, observes that the most insidious aspect of sex trafficking today is that the victims go along willingly because they are seduced by pimps who use the teen girls’ vulnerabilities and desires expressed on line. The girls believe they are entering into a love relationship, and wind up being sold for sex. “And with texting and social media, this is happening in homes in our own communities, sometimes with teens in the neighborhood,” Johnson said.

Clarify parent role in protecting privacy

Explain to your child that “private” is when you decide not to disclose information about yourself in order to be safe; it involves discretion and is active boundary setting. A secret, on the other hand, is something that is determined cannot survive the light of day because it is not acceptable: i.e., exploitative, harmful or illegal.

Secrets harbor risky behavior. So while parents respect privacy by not sharing personal things without permission, they do not grant it because they have authority for the protective cover of their minor children.

Nation states keep secrets. Parents and children should not.

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