Children have rights to freedom and privacy. Yet, these rights, particularly privacy rights, are often denied by parents who are prone to the “sharenting” phenomenon (the oversharing by parents of their children’s life moments on social media). One must wonder, will the smart world we are building deny children these privacy rights?
Starting at age 13, my parents sent me abroad to develop my language skills. I remember the flights between France and the United States very well. For 15 hours, I did not have to check in with anyone. I was on a plane with no way to call home and this made me feel free, grown-up and ready for anything — a delightful feeling.
That feeling is one my children will never experience. I am concerned that we have inadvertently robbed our kids of much of the freedom we enjoyed, a freedom that is devoid of digital connection.
This “hyper-connection” is all that the younger generations have known. It is their reality, past, present and future. Many are learning how to operate digital devices well before they know how to read. In fact, by the time a child reaches the age of 8, most have surpassed their parents in their knowledge and understanding of technology.
In the next decade, smart cities will be a reality. Imagine our children being scanned and tracked by multiple sensors from the devices they carry or sometimes in their own bodies. Their DNA will more than likely be digitalized, so will their fingerprints, their retina, even their faces. Some of them will likely carry more than a smartphone or fitness device to identify themselves, such as a medical device registered to their name and unique to them.
As with anything, there are upsides and downsides to living in a world so saturated by technology. From a privacy and security perspective, what are the trade-offs of being so connected at such a young age?
P Is For Privacy
Giving up personal details in exchange for connecting to a new game is tempting and no big deal for our children’s generation. But that generation does not realize that their privacy can be violated. Amazon was recently sued over an alleged lack of consent before creating a voiceprint (akin to a fingerprint that uniquely identifies you but is based on the sound of your voice) of a child in an Alexa-enabled home. Now, think about all the data Alexa can gather from your home, about your child, if always kept on. It is mind-boggling.
Just because kids are not aware of what it means to maintain privacy does not mean it is a non-issue. It just means we need to build privacy into the experience, and adults need to pay more attention to where abuse can exist. More education and clarity is needed within existing privacy regulations to protect not just adults but kid-sized consumers, too.
Recently, lawmakers have been exploring revising privacy regulations that are targeted at children — the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) — by codifying parental controls and outright banning targeted advertising to children. Changes like this are a step in the right direction and may be one way to address the privacy issue among the younger generations. But we cannot leave it to regulations only.
E Is For Education
My kids are in elementary school. In their second week back at school, they were given credentials to school applications to practice reading and math in class and at home. They are now required to use the iPads I worked so hard to hide. With that access comes a lot more than access to the school’s apps. Yet, no education is provided by the school on the danger of the internet.
I am a big advocate of STEM in the classroom, but with any STEM education comes the need to educate about security. Children need to be shown how to maintain privacy online.
One solution is to make privacy part of every school’s curriculum. This curriculum would instruct children on how to protect their digital identities. A “smart technology usage” session or class would show students the proper way to access their devices, how to create secure logins, and the red flags to watch out for when navigating the internet.
This should happen before children are handed a digital device in the classroom. These are teachable moments that they can carry with them into adulthood.
V Is For Vigilance
Ultimately, privacy is going to continue to be an uphill battle and it is on us parents and educators to remain vigilant. To fully address the issue of children’s privacy, we must be on the same page as a society. Without firm regulations, it is far too easy to turn a blind eye to the Siris and Alexas of the world.
Furthermore, we are so used to having our privacy violated that until a regulation with staying powers is in place, nothing will change.
In order to be vigilant, parents need to be educated on how to govern their kids’ use of digital technology. This education can be easily found online where vendors and governmental agencies provide tips and best practices. This is not just about ensuring our children keep their screen time low; this is about ensuring that if they are using a digital device they understand the risks and know the safe way to access their personal accounts.
There is a lot at play, but for the sake of our children, we need to be ever-vigilant, while showing them the way with proper education and regular dialogue.
This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.