When the new school year starts, some or all of our children may be learning online again. It’s not clear yet how things will work out–but one thing is clear. We need to do better about keeping our children safe during online learning.
Whether they’re attending class or just supplementing school work with educational websites, kids are spending more time than ever online. Unfortunately, so are bullies and predators.
Be Wary of Chat Rooms
According to the Department of Justice, 76% of internet crimes that involve the exploitation of a minor start in a chat room. It seems like every piece of software, website, and social media platform has chat built in. If you can’t avoid it entirely, you should at least teach kids how to communicate safely online.
Relationships formed online can become very intense over a short period of time. Kids may have trouble regulating their attachment to these new friends and neglect the “real world” in favor of spending more time online. They may also give out too much personal information, including photos and addresses, that could put them in danger.
Very young children shouldn’t be allowed to use an internet-connected computer without supervision. Older kids should learn how to be smart and safe when talking to people online. The “teenager” they’re chatting with might actually be a 35-year-old predator. Kids should be especially wary of any “internet friends” who try to give them gifts. This is classic grooming behavior, and kids need to know how to spot it.
Is Your Child’s Information Safe?
You might be surprised to learn that schools don’t have to get your explicit consent to collect personal information about your child. When the kids are using educational products provided by the school, such as their online learning platform, it’s fair game to gather information about your child.
Here’s the official word from the Federal Trade Commission: “Under COPPA [Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule], schools can consent on behalf of parents to the collection of student personal information by educational technology services. If your school has consented, then the service may only use that information for educational – not commercial – purposes.”
Schools are restricted in what they can do with that information–they can’t sell it, for example–but then you have to trust that the school district maintains good cybersecurity. Ultimately, if you have concerns about how your school is gathering and using information about your child, you should reach out to them. However, there may be little you can do to change the policies in place.