Privacy Commissioner concerned for kids’ online safety

by | Nov 29, 2013 | News

Earl Abalajon
Early Childhood Reporter

Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Dr. Ann Cavoukian is urging parents to monitor children’s app use and settings on their smart-devices to ensure their safety online.

Cavoukian recommends fully understanding the apps children use, adjusting the parental settings if available and turning off an app’s location services to keep it private.

She also suggests parents clearly explain to their children that whatever they post online will be there forever. Children can be impulsive when it comes to sharing information, and it’s important for parents to reinforce the potential risks of sharing what should be kept private.

“Safety is key because of the tracking and identifying of who you are [online], and children don’t know how to filter themselves, so [they] really need parental involvement,” said Julie Valerio, Humber College early childhood education professor. “But if the parents aren’t aware of the risks, they’re not able to guide the children properly.”

Pina Leo, ECE field placement advisor for Humber, said parents can’t assume their child is aware of the risks of having an online presence, and it’s wrong to assume children are “tech savvy” because they are comfortable using smart devices.

“Students are not as computer savvy as what we expect them to be,” said Leo. “They are great at social networking, but academic-wise they have challenges.”

Parents should see the apps their child uses, and then gauge how educational they may be, or if they’re just for entertainment. Leo said knowing this will help parents keep up with the rapid developments in technology. Parents can’t be expected to know everything their child does online, but Leo wants them to educate their children enough to know how to handle their online activity appropriately.

“It’s more of a conversation around digital citizenship and how to manage their digital identity versus controlling it,” said Tina Zita, instructional resource teacher for the Peel District School Board.

She said students should be aware that when they are interacting with others online, they are a citizen of that domain, and should act no differently than they do as a citizen of Canada.

“We want kids to be good contributing citizens, and that requires them to understand their digital footprint, and to understand the choices that they make,” she said.

Police officers have volunteered their time at schools in the Peel region, and Zita said they have spoken to Grade 3 and 6 students about what they put online, and how it can come back to get those who are careless in their decisions.

The school board also employs parent literacy conferences to help educate parents about the current state of technology and how it affects children.

“I think the main thing is open communication between parents and students about how they are using the technology, because many times people aren’t aware of that whole conversation,” said Zita.