Where’s My Phone? Who Took My Tablet?
In a remarkably short time (thanks in large part to Steve Jobs and Apple), we’ve transitioned from “Don’t touch Dad’s computer” to “Do you want to read a Sesame Street book on the iPad?” My sons were toddlers in the mid- to late 1990s, and seeing them heading towards the computer, sippy cup in hand, was always a little nerve-wracking. Nowadays, though, using an iPhone is second-nature to my young nieces.
When it comes to the littlest tappers and swipers, most acceptable use concerns are alleviated by their inability to read and type, and by the fact that electronic devices can so easily be put out of reach. Nonetheless, there are some important concepts that can be introduced.
The first are the related ideas of personal property and asking permission before using an electronic device. Children are naturally inquisitive, and the bright lights and shiny graphics of mobile devices and OSs are custom-designed to attract their attention. An important step in minimizing potential problems down the road is helping children to understand that they can’t simply pick up and use any device they see. It’s important that they learn to ask permission before using a device, so that you have some idea of what they’re doing. This is also a good time to begin teaching them that many if not most people find it an invasion of privacy for someone else to pick up and start using their phone or tablet.
Once a young child has been given permission to use a device, the primary concerns at this age are not so much what he or she will do with a device, but more about he or she might do TO it. The basic protective rules are pretty straightforward and apply to all electronics (and actually, to most age groups): clean hands, no food or drink nearby, use the device in public space, be willing to share, no temper tantrums, and so on.
The over-arching lesson for children at this age, however, is an important one: that one of the conditions of using an electronic device is that he or she agree to follow instructions from parents or other trusted adults.
Baby Steps Towards Understanding Personal Privacy
Although most pre-schoolers are too young to fully understand the importance of online privacy, this is typically the age at which parents start introducing them to the concept that there are some activities — dressing, bathing, using the bathroom — that generally are not done in public.
At what age and to what extent you convey that message to your child will depend on your own household values. But it’s worthwhile to think that these conversations help lay the foundation for later conversations about the fact that not all “public spaces” are real (i.e., the Internet), and that there is a variety of information that children should either keep private or share with a very small circle of trusted people.
In fact, you may find yourself having similar conversations with your 12 or 13-year-old that you have with your toddler about undressing in public — and helping your tween to understand that sharing a half-naked photo of himself or herself online or via cell phone is essentially the same thing as changing clothes in the middle of a public beach.
One other point to consider when it comes to toddler privacy, and it’s one that has more to do with the behavior of parents than kids: A study published in the fall of 2010 found that 92% of toddlers in the United States already had a “digital footprint,” ranging from posted copies of pre-natal sonograms to email addresses and social network profiles.
It’s worthwhile to ask yourself this question: By the time your child is old enough to understand the concept of informational privacy, how much data about him or her will already be online?