Laws help protect kids from sharing too much information online. But there's more that kids can do to stay safe when they use cell phones, computers, tablets and other devices.

Mar 29, 2013 | By Kelli Plasket


For many kids, the Internet is at their fingertips. From laptops and tablets to smartphones and game systems, a web of information and entertainment is open to them. According to a new report from the Pew Research Center, about three out of four kids ages 12 to 13 access the Internet using a mobile device at least occasionally. Many younger kids are online too. But are Internet users being cautious enough?

Julian Zeitlinger, 9, from Wood-Ridge, New Jersey, uses his iPod Touch and his laptop to watch videos on YouTube and play games. To keep him safe online, his parents monitor his Web use and discuss Internet safety with him. "I ask my parents if something is suspicious," Julian says.

Mobile devices offer more ways than ever to share personal information. The data can be dangerous in the wrong hands. A 2010 study from the security company Norton found that 62% of children ages 8 to 17 have had a negative online experience.

The Privacy Rule

Have you ever had to enter a parent's e-mail address when signing up for a website? That safety net is there because of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The law says sites for kids under 13 cannot collect personal information, such as a phone number or full name, without a parent's permission.

This July, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will update COPPA for the first time since the law was created, in 1998—when YouTube and smartphones didn't exist. "The nature of the way kids get online has changed," FTC lawyer Phyllis Marcus told TFK.

When the changes take effect, COPPA will apply to mobile devices and newer forms of advertising. It will expand what falls under "personal information" to include videos, photographs and services that give user location. The update also aims to improve the ways parents are notified about privacy policies.

COPPA doesn't cover everything that can go wrong online. That's why kids and parents need to know what to look out for and to stop and think before sharing information online (see "Protection Plan").

"There is a misconception that if a site is following COPPA and getting parental consent, it is totally safe," says privacy expert Shai Samet. He runs kidSAFE, which checks for safety features such as whether a chat room is monitored. If the site meets kidSAFE standards, it gets a seal of approval.

Julian's brother Josh, 14, is a member of Teenangels. Its volunteers are trained by WiredSafety, an online-safety information group. Teenangels spreads the word on how to be secure online. "Julian's been exposed to the Internet at a much earlier age than I was," Josh says. "It's important that kids know what a vast resource the Internet is but that it also can be abused if you are not careful."

Protection Plan

Here, experts offer tips about how to stay safe.

- Talk to a parent before giving personal information. Do not give your name, location, e-mail address or photo without knowing what the website plans to do with the data.

- Get a parent's permission before downloading an app or clicking on ads. Never click on suspicious links. If it seems too good to be true, it probably isn't true.

- Before using a website or app, research it and read its privacy policy. Sites like offer reviews for kids and parents.

- Create strong passwords for all websites. The password should be easy to remember but hard to guess. Never share your user name and password with anyone except a parent or trusted adult.

- Use a lock password on all your devices so that someone can't access your private information if you lose the device.

This story originally appeared in the March 29, 2013 issue of TIME For Kids: Edition 5-6