What Do You Tell Your Kids About Online Privacy?

A call for parents to share the values and practices that they instill around digital life–and their fears about what could go wrong.

Mike Segar / Reuters

The future of privacy in the United States will be shaped by the next generation of citizens and consumers, a rising generation that has never known a pre-Internet world.

The broadcast journalist Manoush Zomorodi created a segment called The Privacy Paradox on the WYNC show “Note to Self.” Its premise: “ You love the convenience of living online. But you want more control over where your personal information goes.” (The shows dubbed “The 5 Day Plan” are informative. I learned about an additional way that my iPhone was tracking me. And I pay attention to this stuff.)

Zomorodi’s interactions with listeners caused her to think more deeply about the attitudes toward privacy and digital best practices that she ought to pass along as a parent. At a panel Tuesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, co-hosted by The Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, she expressed chagrin at having chosen Yahoo when creating her child’s first email account––and pride at the child’s subsequent decision to sign up for an account with an overseas email provider that offers strong encryption.

Many parents don’t offer any guidance to their children on digital privacy, if only because their children seem so much tech savvy than they are. But Zomorodi’s reflections got me wondering what parents who do think about these matters tell their kids as they begin to use the Internet, or smart phones, or get their first social media account. As Julia Angwin has observed, “if I don’t do anything to help my children learn to protect themselves, all their data will be swept up into giant databases, and their identity will be forever shaped by that information.”

How do you acculturate your children into the digital world?

If you’re a parent who is willing to share, I’d be eager to hear about your approach in your own words. How old is your child? What rules do you lay down? What guidance do you offer, if any? What do you leave up to your child? What do you think of the way they conceive of personal information, digital privacy, and the trail of data they are creating? How would you rate your level of awareness of what they do in digital spaces? What are your biggest worries, challenges, and dilemmas? Email conor@theatlantic.com if you’re willing to share answers to these questions, or any related thoughts.

I expect many parents will benefit from hearing one another’s experiences.