Should we talk about… protecting private life on line ? A Ms Broccoli conversation

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It’s time for a new Ms. Broccoli conversation with your children! Today, the theme of the conversation is protecting one’s private life online.
Why do people (not just children!) have the tendency to share everything online? How can you make sure that your private life and that of your children is preserved, and how can you prevent them from being in an embarrassing or even dangerous situation? There are so many questions which we encourage you to discuss for 30 minutes with your children. Enjoy!

Contents of the article :

  1. A discussion guide with your children
  2. The golden rules for a successful discussion with your children
  3. Advice to give your children… and to follow as parents !
  4. A few details on privacy policies and settings
  5. Ms. Broccoli’s selected reading for further subject discussion

And above all don’t forget : enjoy this pleasant moment of discussion with your children! 🙂

1- Protecting one’s private life on the internet : a short discussion guide

Remember, this discussion guide is simply…a guide! The goal is not to ask each question or follow a pre-established order! These questions are just a departure point, a pretext to allow you to bring up an important subject, which your child cannot always talk about easily. If you feel that one point in particular deserves more in-depth discussion, take the time to do it.

Introductory questions

  • What is the best thing that happened to you this week?
  • What cool things happened at school this week ?
  • What do you like most about school?
  • What’s your favorite memory of vacation ?
  • What would you like to know how to do the most that you don’t know yet ?
  • If you could write a book, what would it be about?

Questions to approach the subject…

  • What are your favorite websites/apps?
  • What interesting things do you find on these websites/apps ?
  • Can the users talk to each other? How does that work?
  • Have you ever told a secret to a friend? Think about how you would feel if he were to tell it. How would you feel?
  • If you had a private diary, how would you feel if someone else read it?
  • Have you ever seen embarrassing photos of your friends on the internet ? How did you feel? What were your friends’ reactions?

Questions on protecting one’s private life

  • What information did you give to create an account on your favorite site?
  • In your opinion, how do you think this information is used? What do you think about it?
  • I suggest we go and look at these controls together.
  • Let’s play a little game: I am going to try to guess your password, and you tell me if I’m close or not.
  • How do you think you can come up with a password that no one will find out ?
  • If someone finds out your password, what will happen? What can he do? Can he access other sites?
  • Do you have a public profile ? What is your avatar?
  • How would you feel if your teacher saw your profile photo, and your recent posts ? And someone who doesn’t know you at all?
  • Do you accept all the friend requests you receive ? What are your selection criteria ?
  • Do you know all these contacts in real life?
    • If the answer is no, when was the last time you spoke to someone you don’t know in real life? What did you talk about ? What do you think about it?
  • Let’s type your first and last name on Google. What do you think of these results?
  • Let’s type your first and last name on your favorite site. What do you think of these results?

2- The golden rules for discussion success

You will find in this article the 9 golden rules for Ms. Broccoli conversation success with your children.
The most important thing is that you listen actively to your children, without judging them, and that you and your children enjoy this exchange.

3- The 3 golden rules your children should follow…

1. I keep my private data…private.

Telephone number, address, school, birthdate, geographical location…these are private data which, in the wrong hands, can be detrimental for any user, and especially for a child. To protect his data, a child must be careful about what he shares on a website or an app: to not provide information that is voluntary, for example, disactivate geolocation authorization…

But certain information is nonetheless required (often one’s age, email address, and name). In these cases, the child needs to be able to know which information is being collected, why, and how it’s being used. Before the age of 13, a child is not allowed to create an account by himself or herself–he must have your permission, and you have to validate together the data collected on your child.

Security also consists of a secure password (forget about using the name of the hamster that an older brother can easily find, or one’s birthdate), and it stays private. A password should NEVER be shared with other users or internet administrators. 

Dishonest people can send emails that look like they were sent by the site being used, pretend to be offering a service, and under different pretexts (virus issue, updates, security verification…) may ask the user to click on a link that either downloads a virus or asks the user to create a new password. This is called phishing, and it’s very dangerous, as emails and websites are often very well made and may resemble a real site or service. To avoid being fooled, one must verify the target website (by doing a right click on the link). If this link is different from the usual site, do not click on this link.

Pirates” (also known as “hackers”) can access your friends’ address books and ask you for something by pretending to be them. It’s very common. In these cases, the request sent by your “friend” is often strange (such as, “I’m currently abroad on vacation, all my money was stolen, and I really need your help…”). Never click on the links in these emails, and immediately notify the person mentioned in the email that his account was probably hacked.

2. I know exactly who can see the content I post online.

Control the data visible to other users, like photos for example. Before opening an account on a social media site, a child–no matter what age–must truly understand that all the data he shares can potentially become public.

Once data or content is published, it’s not always easy to unpublish it. In addition, published content can be taken and republished many times over. In these cases, it is virtually impossible to take it off the internet. Even if the site or app has a service, content can be taken and shared without limit by other users and other websites and apps.

“13% of young people active on a social media site still have the tendency to post their address or phone number on their profile. A profile which, in one out of four cases, is open to everyone…”

3. I think twice before posting.

Who hasn’t heard the phrase, “Turn your tongue 7 times in your mouth before speaking”? That’s also the case online–one must think twice (or 7 times!) before posting an image or a message that one might regret 5 minutes later…or 15 years later. It could seem funny to want to post a video of yourself at a party with friends, but will everyone find it funny in 4 or 5 years? What will the companies that want to hire your children think, even if it’s just for an internship, as of 9th grade?

… And the 3 golden rules to follow as parents

Live by example! What if children are more responsible than we thought?

p style=”padding-left: 30px;”>Researchers at the University of Washington and University of Michigan studied the rules that people follow when sharing photos or videos online of their family. The conclusion is shocking: These are the children who are most attentive!

Children are well aware of the potential virality of the most ridiculous of videos, and they think twice before posting them, unlike parents, who think in good faith of sharing them only with their friends.

2. Your children have the right to create their own digital profiles.

You must have liked how your boss was able to see photos of you in curlers, bellydancing in the middle of the living room, because Aunt Mary shared them on her Facebook account? Yes, that’s what we thought. 🙂

For your children, it’s the same thing! You are proud of them, and that’s totally justified. But your child will have the leisure of sharing these photos and videos that he will have selected himself, later on. Why not give him a chance and the choice to what becomes public?

3. You are the best judge!

Make sure that your child’s social media site is well adapted for his age.

The most popular social media sites (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Skype…) are not legally authorized to have users under the age of 13. And there’s a good reason for this: these are open sites, where anyone can make contact with anyone else. How can you know this for sure? It’s simple, try to create an account by giving an age below 13–you will not be authorized to proceed further.

“Letting your child under the age of 13 sign up on a social media site like Facebook, Snapchat or WhatsApp, is like leaving him all alone at the supermarket and telling him that it’s OK if anyone at all wants to talk to him during your absence…”

You can also test the application yourself, to make sure that the content is adapted properly. Neutral avatars, visible content from other appropriate users…

Thank goodness that social media sites like Monster Messenger exist, specifically designed for children and their families, where the management of contacts authorized to communicate with children is under parental control.

4- Privacy policies and settings…what are they?

Protecting one’s private life online consists of:

  • Knowing how one’s data is collected and used by third parties (like mobile apps and websites)
  • Knowing how to control the sharing of content and to whom it’s visible
  • Thinking about the content one shares to avoid putting oneself in danger, or making public content that one might prefer to keep private in reality.

A privacy policy is a contract that describes how a company collects, uses, publishes, and erases data given by its clients. For example, a website that demands a subscription for participating in its forums should offer such a policy for the data provided: age, sex, grade level, etc. 

A privacy policy should habitually contain clauses that describe how personal information is archived, how it can be used, the people who might receive it, and the security measures in place. For example, here is Google’s privacy policy. Let’s be realistic, our children will not take the time to read privacy policies. It’s up to us, the adults, to educate ourselves so as to protect them, and make them aware of it.

Privacy settings are controls defined by the user on every platform used. On the majority of social media sites used today, users can configure which content is visible to all users. Who can see his profile photo, his birthdate, his shared photos? Users can choose to only share with friends, with friends of friends, or…the whole world!

5- Ms. Broccoli’s selected reading for further subject discussion

  • Common Sense Media, material intended for parents
  • OnGuardOnline, a wealth of videos intended for children
  • teaches tweens and teens about making safer choices online. Videos, comics, games, quizz… great material!

And to conclude…

30 minutes of (real) conversation with your children every week can make a considerable difference. You can’t find these 30 minutes? What if you start with 15 minutes, or even 10 minutes just to try? No television, no radio, no telephone or interruption allowed during this precious time. You will be amazed by all that you are going to discover about your children and by the positive impact of these little conversations on your relationship with your children…with the condition that you truly listen to them!

Do you have a conversation idea to suggest to Ms. Broccoli ? A comment about or an addition to this article? A personal experience that you would like to share? Contact Ms. Broccoli at

Regarding Ms. Broccoli’s discussions