Data Protection Day: how to keep your kids safe online

What is Data Protection Day?

Today is Data Protection Day (or Data Privacy Day as it’s known in the States). This day is observed every 28thJanuary with the aim of raising awareness and promoting safe online behaviour in this digital age.

It falls on the anniversary of the signing of the ‘Convention for the Protection of Individuals with Regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data’ (catchy title huh?!).   This Council of Europe treaty was a bit ahead of its time, as it was signed in 1981. It is under review at the moment to update its scope on online data processing.

This started out as a day to promote awareness among businesses about best practices for data privacy online.  It has now expanded to include education for families and individuals, especially given the prevalence of social media among young users and the need to keep kids safe online.

Various events and promotions on this day help users learn about their control over what identifiable information they have online and how this may be used.  For businesses, it also encourages compliance with data regulations, such as the much talked about GDPR.

The modern day challenge

While the internet is such an amazing resource for us all, it’s quite a task trying to keep your data safe in the world of phishing, malware and spam. For me, it’s even more terrifying realizing you have to navigate a world that you don’t fully understand to try and keep your kids safe online too.  My son is only 2.5 years old currently but already he’s adept with technology. He’ll happily unlock an iPad, find YouTube or Netflix and turn a TV show on.  He recently bought a load of books on his grandmother’s Kindle the first time he ever saw one!

I really feel like he (and his generation) will be way ahead of me in terms of tech knowledge, which I’m really happy about.  However, he doesn’t yet understand viruses, grooming, social media related depression, scammers, social networking etiquette etc so I’m trying to get ahead of him to be able to ensure his safety!

Early education

It seems sensible to start discussing online safety at an early age so it becomes second nature to them.  Their safety seems so guaranteed at a young age when they aren’t using their own smart phones or iPads and all screen use is easily monitored.  However, by talking to them in a non-threatening way about creating good passwords for apps they want to download (and the obvious consequence of not doing so) we hope sensible online behavior will be engrained.

The other element of this with the rise on cyber bullying is to impress upon our kids that you cannot (or certainly should not!) hide behind Internet anonymity.  Teaching them that if you wouldn’t say the mean comment to a friend’s face, then you should not be considering posting it on a forum is, I hope, helping negate trolling behaviour.

Once it’s out there, it’s out there

It also bears mentioning that this generation will have social media and online presence so engrained in their lives that the distinction between real world and online world may become increasingly blurry.  However, the very real fact is that everything they put online may well come back to bite them later on.  There are enough stories online about posts in poor taste coming back to haunt celebrities, but on a local level, universities and potential employers will almost certainly be doing a brief search on the online behavior of their candidates in the future.  Reminding them that once something is out there it cannot be withdrawn is a valuable lesson.  Think twice, type once.

Parental responsibility

As well as my responsibility to try and teach my son right from wrong online, I also feel I have a duty of care to him now, before he understands social media. I live my life like an open book so I’m happy to post family photos online or talk about my family on my blog. On the other hand, I’m aware that he doesn’t yet have the understanding to consent to what I share about him online. We don’t have a total photo ban on photos of him, but I do consider anything I even think of posting before I do. I look at it from his point of view and wonder if at 16 would he be mad at me for what I was putting out into the world on his behalf.  And sometimes, that means that I’ve typed a post and thought better of it.

For me, naked photos, bath photos, potentially embarrassing photos are a complete no-go.  I know that other parents post nothing at all or post with no holds barred. All these options are fine if they sit well with you and you are prepared to justify what you posted to your child.  But it is worth having a think about this and also a chat to other family members so that they know your wishes.  I hope it goes without saying that you should check with other people before posting photos of their kids.

Are you inadvertently over-posting?

A few other things to vaguely think about… are you posting more information than you are aware of?  Take this example; you’re friends with a lot of people on Facebook, some of whom you’ve never met in real life (I am) and you post a photo of your kid on the first day of school.  You’re so proud, you have to share their milestone and the likes start racking up. Did you spot that you’ve geo-tagged the photo to your home location and your kid is standing outside your front door with the number clearly showing?  Furthermore, your kid is wearing a jumper with the school emblem on the breast.  So with a quick Google anyone can find out where you live and where you kid is at school.  Is this information you’re happy for hundreds of people to have readily accessible to them?

Sounds like I’m a worst-case scenario worrier but for me it’s a better safe than sorry situation.

How to be safe online

It’s an interesting debate about how to monitor children and keep kids safe online.  If you do a quick Google search for keeping kids safe online you’ll see opinions from the entire spectrum of parenting methods.

There is the implied watcher; if your kid imagines you standing watching and they feel happy to continue what they are doing or typing then it’s ok for them to continue.  Then you have the actual watcher; set Wi-Fi passwords to forget so they always need to ask for your input to access the web and then you can closely monitor their actions.  You can also say you must friend them on all social media accounts to keep one eye on them.  Or the other end of the line is complete trust; assume that you’ve taught your kids sufficiently about online security and have installed AV software.  Then the hope is that they come to you if any behaviour seems out of the ordinary or they need your help.

While my tendency is towards the position of implicit trust in my son, I know that my husband’s IT knowledge far outstrips mine and I’m sure he will lean towards blocked search terms, time limits and deleting passwords.  This is a conversation for future years when our early education option has been largely exhausted and the peer pressure to have a Facebook account and YouTube channel beckon!

Apple settings

There are lots of monitoring software on the market, but amazingly Apple has actually built this into their devices to help parents look after their children. All of the features can be enabled by going to Settings > Screen Time.  I absolutely love this function as it really helps me monitor and reduce my own screen time.

Here are just a few of the ways you can use Screen Time to help protect your kids. You can make sure they cannot purchase or download anything from the App Store without needing your password by going into Content & Privacy Restrictions > iTunes & App Store Purchases and turning on the password option.

In the same menu you can also stop the playback of music and videos with explicit content or prevent viewing of videos and movies with a specific age rating.

If you’re more worried about Internet search content you can also use the Content & Privacy Restrictions menu to limit what websites will be shown in searches. You can filter out adult content or create a list of allowed websites if you want to make sure the content returned in a search is very strict.  Linked to this is the ability to prevent Siri from showing explicit language or from searching the web.  You can alter what Siri will show in the same section under the Siri option.

If you’re looking on a Mac computer rather than iPhone or iPad, then you can find and enable all these settings in System Preferences > Parental Controls area.

Other resources

There is so much scope to help protect your children with the native Apple Screen Time functionality so definitely check it out!  A link to all features is just below.

If you want practical tips about the internet and how to keep both yourself, and you children, safe then please do look at some of the following resources:

Full description of Apple built-in options

Stay Safe Online

NSPCC guide to online safety

Most importantly, if you need some more help with education or other monitoring options for your school, please do get in touch.  Feel free to let us know how you are better protecting your kids – we always love a good tip!


Tori is the genius behind the scenes that keeps everyone in line…or so she likes to think. She loves all things photography and was an (unwilling) Mac convert over a decade ago but would now never go back!