Child Protection Laws & How to Protect Children Online

Paige Geis Bradshaw

Even in the internet’s early days, it had a reputation of being a “Wild West” of its own. It was new, unpredictable, always changing, and largely unregulated.

I was five years old when my parents brought home our first family computer. Complete with dial-up internet, my older sister and I couldn’t wait to play on pbskids.org! (The only website we were allowed to browse at the time.)

Boy, has the internet changed since then! Not only can I surf the web and use the landline (if I had one) at the same time, the internet adds accessibility and convenience to many areas of my life. From work to shopping to paying the bills, I can manage just about everything from my computer!

In spite of all that change, some things have stayed the same: the internet is still new, unpredictable, always changing, and largely unregulated.

What does that mean for your internet-using children? Let’s take a look at existing child protection laws, then learn how to protect children online.

Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA)

The Children’s Internet Protection Act—or CIPA—was initially put into place by Congress in 2000. Written to address concerns about children’s exposure to harmful content online, it requires schools and libraries to implement safety measures that protect children using the internet in their buildings.

But this legislation doesn’t apply to all schools and libraries. These protections are only required of those participating in the E-Rate Program, which offers significant discounts on telecommunication and internet access to eligible schools and libraries.

To continue taking advantage of the E-Rate Program, schools and libraries must prove they have a documented internet safety policy. This policy is required to address:

  • Content Filters

Pictures, videos, and other online content that is considered obscene, child pornography, or reasonably harmful or inappropriate for children must be blocked from their access.

  • Safe Access

Children must be provided safe access to the internet, especially when communicating electronically on social media, through email, or in chat rooms.

  • Activity Monitoring

All online activity of children must be monitored by an authorized adult. This is to prevent children from engaging in harmful and self-destructive behaviors like cyberbullying and illegal activity.

  • Unauthorized Access

Authorized adults must supervise and protect children from unlawful internet activities, like hacking and unauthorized remote access.  

  • Unauthorized Disclosure

Children should not provide any personal information while using the internet. Protection against the unauthorized disclosure, use, and dissemination of their details must be enforced.

  • Internet Safety Education

Information teaching children about the responsible use of technology and appropriate online behavior must be readily available.

It’s important to know that CIPA does not require these same safety measures of schools and libraries receiving E-Rate Program funding for telecommunications only. They are only held to this standard if they are also receiving funding for internet access.

Plus, any authorized adult—like a teacher, librarian, or aide—can disable content filters and other safeguards when necessary, such as for research purposes. While CIPA is a step in the right direction, it’s not a complete protection.

Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act—or COPPA—also took effect in 2000, but for different reasons. Brought about to regulate questionable internet marketing tactics designed to target children, this legislation protects children’s personal information. (In passing this legislation, Congress also hoped parental involvement in their children’s online activity would increase.)

Websites are not permitted to collect personal information from children under 13 without parental consent. To comply with COPPA rules, a website must:

  • Receive verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information from a child.
  • Disclose to parents the personal information that will be collected.
  • Provide a detailed privacy policy describing the personal information it collects from users.
  • Limit collecting children’s personal information when playing games or entering contests.
  • Protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of any child’s personal information.
  • Allow parents to revoke consent at any time and delete any personal information collected.

Unfortunately, these rules are only required of websites with any content specifically directed to children. Any other website is not required to uphold these protections.

This legislation also only applies to children younger than 13. In my book, you’ve still got a few years of bein’ a kid after 13!

Cyberbullying Laws

Cyberbullying is just like in-person bullying—only the harassment is inescapable, even in the safety of your home.

According to stopbullying.gov:

“Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, text, and apps, or online on social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation.”

While most states have enacted cyberbullying laws and policies, your child’s protection will vary based on where your family lives. And at the federal level, there are no cyberbullying laws at all.

In some cases—particularly in places that receive federal funding—cyberbullying based on religion, race, sexual orientation, or another protected class constitutes a civil rights violation and potentially a hate crime.

But in most cases, criminal action is not taken against perpetrators. And if it is, it’s usually no worse than a misdemeanor with the potential of some jail time. However, this can be significantly aggravated if sexual content played any part in the cyberbullying.

What Parents Can Do

Even with these child protection laws in place, it’s often said that the law can’t keep up with technology—and as far as I can tell, that’s pretty accurate.

So, you have no choice but to step in!

Here’s how you can help your kids stay safe on the internet:

  • Keep the family computer in an open area of the house, like the kitchen or living room. This allows you to keep an eye on how it’s being used.
  • Check the websites your children are visiting. Don’t forget to review the apps they’re downloading and games they’re playing, too!
  • Install filters on your computer’s internet browser to minimize the chance of your children seeing content they shouldn’t see.
  • Bookmark your kids’ favorite websites for quick access that doesn’t require an internet search.
  • If you have a child who’s ready for a phone, add Troomi to your cart! It’s got completely customizable parental controls, just like what you’ve got on your computer. Set screen-time limits, enable or disable app downloads, and safelist websites they can access—or prevent them from using the internet at all!
  • Learn more about the access your children have to the internet at school, their friends’ homes, and anywhere else they use technology outside your home.
  • Teach your children how to use technology safely and appropriately. When they come to you with questions or concerns, respond with compassion and love.
  • Have your children participate in internet safety training! I love these videos and resources by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Protect Your Kids Online with Troomi

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