Children’s Online Safety: Social Identity, Privacy and Geotagging

200-textingKids’ Corner | By Patrick Biron –

If thousands of years in the future someone digs up an iPhone and gets it working, they won’t have much trouble figuring out what we do each day. Indeed, with the meteoric rise of Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and the “selfie,” most people bookmark their lives on a nearly moment-to-moment basis.

For young children, especially teens, this plays directly into the identity-based insecurities and transient feelings of puberty. In under 15 seconds, children can use their phone to post a status and almost instantaneously get comments, likes or a response from hundreds of people. While this might make them feel “known,” it is important to make sure kids realize what constitutes a real friend from someone who simply friends them online. And while a real-life “like” from their parents is sometimes the last thing on earth they want, especially in front of their friends, parents should support their children in activities that provide them with real, face-to-face role models and friends. It’s one of the reasons that I believe sports, arts, camps and coaches are so vital.

The innocence and naivety of teens also puts them at risk on social media, where predators, bullies or other undesirables can mislead, groom or stalk them. Educating kids on the dangers is a must, but some children do not respond well to a parent “telling” them what to do. If your child has reached that stage of development and you feel they are ready, it might be more beneficial to simply show them the facts, the risks and the benefits and let them come to the safe conclusions themselves.

What are those risks? Well, first off, create a fake person with your child online to show them how easy it is and the dangers of online relationships. Show them how easy it is to lie and misrepresent who you are on social media. Many kids take a Facebook post almost as seriously as a sworn testimony before the Supreme Court, and it is important for them to realize that their friends, celebrities and everyone in between usually only post the best side of themselves. They should always take what they see online with a big grain of salt.

Speaking of selfies, you may want to talk to your kids about privacy settings. Do they have their accounts set up so anyone can find them by simply searching their name? Would they feel uncomfortable if someone creepy was able to see their photos?

It also should be noted that most smart phones embed a “geotag” in an image, a digital fingerprint that tells the date and location the photo was taken. There are ways to disable this, but kids – and parents – might not even know about it. So that “secret” hideout that a child visits to relax might not be secret if the geotag is enabled and they take a selfie there and post it online.

There are both benefits and risks to this technology, but as an informed parent, you will be able to make the best decision for your kids, and that’s something that’s truly likable.

E-mail Patrick Biron at if you have a topic or question you’d like covered or simply want more information.