Main content

Your child’s personal information – and how to protect it online (primary)

Primary aged child on laptop

Robert Kneschke/stock.adobe.com

Sharing personal information is a fact of life on the internet, and that’s just as true for young people as it is for adults. But sometimes we might share more online than we would offline without thinking about who might see it or use it. 

Children inhabit a vast digital world packed with opportunities. They can play games with friends, watch videos, interact on social media, explore new hobbies and access a wealth of learning resources and information.

Many of these apps, games and sites are even free to use – in monetary terms at least. But they’re not free in all senses, because your child may instead have to give away their personal information in exchange for using them. 

Primary schools will be teaching your child about personal information as part of the new RSE curriculum (see box at bottom of page). This article will help you support their learning – and help reduce the risks at home too.

What is personal information? 

Personal information is any information that can be used to identify your child. 

It includes obvious things such as their name and email address, date of birth and where they live. But it can also include less obvious things – for instance who their family and friends are, where they go to school, or a photograph or video showing what they look like. It can even include details of their daily routine. And of course online it also includes their username and password.

Personal information also includes bank or payment details – although most of the time this will be your information, rather than your child’s.

How and where might your child share personal information?

Personal information is used almost everywhere on the internet.

For a start, any website, app, game or service that requires a login will ask for personal information. This will usually be a username and password but it will often also include your child’s real name and email address. 

Many sites and apps will also let your child create a profile. Here, they may have the chance to upload a photo, add their date of birth and maybe list their hobbies and interests. 

It’s become increasingly common for apps to allow users to share their location. Some allow you to tag photos with the exact place they were taken, others track users’ locations and update them automatically. 

Although adding this kind of information is usually voluntary, many children will love the idea of personalising their account and telling other users about themselves, and so will jump straight into it. 

Sometimes your child might share personal information by accident. This is particularly common on social media apps, where sharing is the whole point. 

Your child might also be tricked into sharing information – for instance by an unsafe website, a scam email or a pop-up box. Children love competitions and may share their email address if they think they’ll get something in return. 

What are the risks around personal information?

Most personal information that your child shares online will be used for legitimate purposes – whether allowing them to log in, helping them to connect with friends or letting them create a profile. 

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely safe. Sites can be hacked, and if hackers get access to that personal information they could use it for cyber crime. The good news is that this doesn’t happen often – but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Some sites may also use your personal information to try to sell you something that you don’t want. The GDPR laws introduced in 2018 help to stop this kind of thing from happening, but if your child has ticked a privacy policy box somewhere without really understanding what they were agreeing to, it’s possible they could be emailed with tempting offers – or even just spam.

If other internet users have access to your child’s personal data they could use it too. This could lead to the child being trolled or bullied online, or even groomed – though this is unlikely. 

What can parents do to protect their child’s personal information?

If you have primary-aged children, it’s a good idea to set up the accounts yourself or together with your child, so you know what information has been shared.

It’s really important to set strong passwords, as they will help to protect personal information from people who might try to access it. But of course your child will also need to remember them. 

A good tip is to use three random words together, and to replace a few letters with numbers. For instance, ‘TreeElephantFootball’ might become ‘Tr33ElephantF00tball’. And your child should always use different passwords for different sites. That way, if one account does get hacked, your child’s other accounts should be safe. 

Talk to your child about personal information. Explain what it is and when it is safe to share. Make sure they know that some information should not be shared with others online and if they share something they shouldn’t, they should tell you or another grown-up they trust.

On some sites, apps and games, children may be talking to people that they don’t know offline. Let your child know that they shouldn’t share their full name or any other personal information about themselves such as the name of their school, address or telephone number.

Explain that some sites, emails and pop ups may try to trick them into clicking on links or sharing information. For example, they may offer free coins, avatars or upgrades. Before they click on any links, they should stop and ask for help from a grown up first. 

And remind them that personal information isn’t just about what’s written down. A photo can contain lots of information – for instance an image of them wearing their uniform could identify which school they attend. 

Finally, parents can use the settings in many apps to restrict what data is shared. Look through the options with your child and agree which things you – and they – are happy for others to know about them. The National Cyber Security Centre has further advice about how to do this. You can also read a guide to privacy settings on ThinkUKnow and a guide to privacy settings on the major social media platforms on Parent Zone.

Action

The new RSE/RSHE curriculum

The new RSE (for primary) and RSHE (secondary) curriculum is compulsory from September 2020. However due to the impact of COVID-19, schools have been given additional time to implement it if they need it. They must begin teaching by April 2021. Parent Info will be running a series of articles over the next year exploring the ‘Online Relationships’ aspect of the new primary curriculum and the ‘Online and media’ aspect of the secondary curriculum. This article will help parents of primary-aged children understand how they can support the learning from the statutory curriculum, specifically that children ‘Know the rules and principles for keeping safe online, how to recognise risks, harmful content and contact, and how to report them’ and that they ‘Know how information and data is shared and used online’. 

Related articles

Explore further

  • Games, apps and tech

    Wattpad: unleashing creativity…or unleashing unwanted content?

    Wattpad is a popular online platform that allows millions of people to share their stories. But concerns have been raised that there is no quality control and pornographic and other troubling content is slipping through.

  • Parenting

    Fake news: a parent's guide

    What is fake news and how can you help  your child spot it? Nicky Cox, editor in chief of First News, offers advice for parents