Our team at Zeeko were delighted to participate in the Government’s Open Policy Debate on Digital Safety which took place in Dublin on March 8th.  One of the main topics for discussion was the proposed introduction of a digital age of consent. The digital age of consent refers to age from which it is legal for data controllers to hold data gathered from minors. Parental consent will be required up to the age of 13.

The Government has supported a recommendation that the digital age of consent be set at the age of 13, although others argue that it should be 16. At Zeeko we strongly believe and advocate that regardless of what age is set for the digital age of consent, the key is education! Dr Marina Everri, head of research at Zeeko, says “the risk with creating a solution that only communicates a specific age of consent as a solution is that children go underground when parents are not prepared and well-informed.

“Such a solution neglects the need for both parents and children to be educated on their online privacy and digital footprint. In an ever-changing technology environment, an evidence based education solution is critical.”

According to Dr. Everri, providing education to children on technology requires conducting research, “so we can effectively teach children how to think about online risks and data protection”.

So, what can you do as a parent to help your child to make smart choices when they are online irrespective of their age? Regularly talk to your child about what they are experiencing when they are online, the type of content they are seeing and the sort of conversations they are having online. Being open with your children about their digital lives lets them know that you are interested in what they are doing online. It also helps them to know that it is ok for them to come to you if they are experiencing a problem online. Keeping the lines of communication open is certainly crucial.

Another conversation to start and continue particularly with older children and teenagers is one about content, essentially that what they share online cannot be easily deleted or permanently removed.  From our visits to schools we hear from children that they do not always have an understanding that what they are posting online leaves what we call a ‘digital footprint’. This means that something they post now leaves a mark similar to a physical footprint that could have implications for them in the future. The immediacy of digital communication means that we can all forget that content in particular can be re-shared or changed. This is a challenge for adults, never mind children!

It is important too to familiarise yourself with what social media platforms can do with data about your child.  You should take a look at the terms and conditions that are in place when signing up to a social media platform. They don’t always make for the most riveting read but are certainly worth exploring.

Undoubtedly having a digital age of consent in Ireland will be a very positive step forward in helping to protect children online. Whatever the age, education must go hand in hand with it.