By Jodi Daniels

The 2020-2021 school year: it’s been a hot topic since last spring. What would the state of the pandemic be? How would schools ensure student safety? Would they be able to fix the problems with remote learning that everyone experienced in March, April, and May?

The answer: ARRRGGGHHHHHH!!!

We’ve started the new school year and no one really knows. Another way to put it? Schools and parents across the country are handling K-12 education in vastly different ways. The only commonality is that everyone truly, sincerely wants to keep kids safe.

But while there’s lots of talk about keeping kids safe from the pandemic, we don’t want to shortchange another important point of discussion: keeping them safe online.

Kids and online safety

Even without online school and our socially distanced lives, young Americans are spending more time than ever in front of screens. A 2019 study by Common Sense Media found that kids 8-12 spent an average of four hours and 44 minutes with entertainment media on digital devices. For teens, it was seven hours and 22 minutes.

This number has zoomed upwards in the last six months. In a survey by the advocacy group, ParentsTogether, almost half of American children of all ages have more than six hours of screentime a day.

And the greater the time spent on devices, the greater exposure they have to online risks.

Risks to kids

There are lots of risks to kids online, but below are some of the most common threats that face kids when they access the digital world, especially in absence of close supervision.

  • Cyberbullying
  • Inappropriate content
  • Ransomware
  • Oversharing
  • Online predators

These risks may sound somewhat hazy. Scary, but not that tangible. But consider some of these statistics. In a 2019 survey of kids in grades 4-8 by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education:

  • 53% access the internet for non-homework related activities
  • 40% reported they connected or chatted online with a stranger
  • 29% admit to using the internet in ways their parents wouldn’t approve of
  • 21% access sites where they can chat with strangers

Support safety and privacy online

Know your child’s rights

There are some state laws — consider California’s Privacy Rights for California Minors in the Digital World Act and Delaware’s Del. Code § 1204C — that protect children’s privacy and security. However, some of the strongest protections in this area currently come from federal legislation.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

Your child’s education records are governed by FERPA, a federal law dating back to 1974. FERPA simultaneously guarantees that parents have access to their child’s education record while restricting who else can access and use the information.

Under FERPA, parents have the following rights to their child’s education records, including the rights to:

  • Inspect and review your child’s education record
  • Request corrections (or deletion) of anything that is inaccurate
  • Consent, or deny, disclosure of some of your child’s information in certain situations.

When your child turns 18 or enters college, their rights belong solely to them.

Children’s Online Privacy Protect Act (COPPA)

COPPA is another important federal law. This law oversees what information can be collected by companies that have websites, games, mobile applications, and any online product that is marketed to children under 13 or when the company is aware that a user is under 13.

As per COPPA, companies have to post a clear and understandable privacy policy on their site, providing direct notice to parents and obtaining their consent before collecting personal information from a child under 13. These companies are obligated to delete personal information on request and provide the requisite security to protect the information.

Note that teachers and other school personnel are authorized to provide this consent on your behalf. However, this consent is strictly limited to an educational context.

Talk to your kids about privacy and safety

Talking to your kids. It’s the first step in preparing them for the world we live in. That includes the digital world as well as the physical one.

Make these conversations part of your regular dialogue with your kid. They are growing and changing every day. Their sense of what privacy and safety means can shift depending on their environmental influences.

As part of these discussions, you should explain what they can do to stay safe.

  • Be aware of what information is safe to share and what isn’t
  • Be careful about interacting with strangers on the internet
  • How to securely download apps, programs, and other content
  • Mindful social media use
  • Safe texting behavior
  • The importance of strong passwords

Emphasize that they can always come to you if concerned or confused.

Need additional conversation starters for your kids? Follow Savvy Cyber Kids on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram for daily questions you can use to start and continue the Tech Talk with your children.

Know your school’s policies and procedures

While safety starts at home, your school is likely working hard to provide safe remote learning experiences for its students. But consider this: According to the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center, schools in the United States have experienced more than 900 cybersecurity-related incidents since 2016. And that’s with conducting in-person, on-site learning.

As with everything this year, there is a steep learning curve. That’s why it’s essential for parents to be proactive when it comes to keeping their kids safe.

Some helpful questions to ask your teacher or school board include:

  • What security measures are in place for the hardware and software the students are using?
  • What is the school’s privacy policy? What measures are they using to keep students and their information safe online?
  • How will parents be able to monitor a student’s device?
  • Will your child’s data be sold?
  • When it comes to attendance, engagement, and progress, how are teachers keeping track?
  • For students that don’t have access to technology, many school districts are providing laptops and tablets to help with online classes. Are they correctly set up with appropriate filtering software to prevent accessing inappropriate sites and platforms?
  • What measures are they taking to comply with COPPA and FERPA regulations as well as any applicable state laws?

Familiarize yourself with the tech your kids are using, both for school and entertainment

So you’ve talked to your kids and you’ve talked to their school. Those are big steps. But there’s a limit to how helpful that information is if you aren’t familiar with your child’s tech.

This goes beyond knowing how Zoom is set up. Get up to speed on the following things:

  • Virtual meeting platforms
    • What kind of password protection is being used?
    • How are the teachers sharing the password?
    • What are the camera use policies?
  • Website, apps, and software
    • What sites is your child accessing for school work? Are they secured?
    • Are the teachers incorporating privacy lessons into instructional plans?

You also need to be keyed into the sites and apps your kids are using outside of school. With kids of all ages spending more time socializing digitally, it’s easy to lose track of what social media sites, games, and other virtual activities they might be engaged in. This is especially important if your child has their own device.

Put safety measures in place at home

Talking to your kids, knowing your school’s technology policies and practices, and being aware of what your kids are doing online are important steps to take. But you also should have proactive measures in place within your home.

Set parental controls

Filtering and blocking software can prevent your child from accessing certain websites or apps. This can help keep them focused on school, but also keep them safe from inappropriate content. Remember, though, that no online safety tool is perfect. Any tool that you use should be paired with parental supervision and good communication.

Protect your WiFi

Protect your WiFi network and all devices connected to it by making sure you’re using the latest firmware. It’s also a good practice to check your brand and model to make sure there aren’t any security risks. Bonus: If you’re working from home, this is a helpful practice for your own security.

Have a family technology plan

Having a set of family guidelines for how you use technology is a good practice for all of us, regardless of remote learning. These kinds of plans get everyone on the same page with how and when screens are used in and outside of the home. While each family’s plan will look different, they can touch on issues like screen-free zones, overnight device use, sharing account and login information, and consequences.

You can leverage the free, customizable Technology Pledge that can change with your family’s needs as your children mature.

Keeping kids safe online isn’t a one-person job. It requires teachers, school administrators, and families to work together to create and maintain an environment that’s conducive for learning while ensuring privacy and security. However, parents will always be the first and foremost advocates for their kids. Following these guidelines will give you a great place to start.


Jodi Daniels is the Founder & CEO of Red Clover Advisors. She is a Certified Informational Privacy Professional (CIPP/US) with more than 20 years of experience helping a range of businesses from solopreneurs to multinational companies in privacy, marketing, strategy, and finance roles. Since launching in 2017, Red Clover Advisors has helped hundreds of companies create privacy programs, achieve GDPR, CCPA, and US privacy law compliance, and establish a secure online data strategy their customers can count on.

Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for our free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics. See more cyber safety and cyber ethics blogs produced exclusively for EarthLink. Looking for a social media parental control? Try a 30-day free trial of Bark. If you sign up after your trial, Bark donates 25% of your monthly fee to Savvy Cyber Kids.

Thank you to the Savvy Cyber Kid’s sponsors!

Interested in becoming a Savvy Cyber Kids sponsor? Email Ben Halpert.