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Teenage Girl Using Laptop in Bed Late at Night.
Feb 28, 2018

How can my family’s virtual behavior lead to real problems?

Children who are old enough to use cell phones, gaming devices and other internet-based activities have access to an unprecedented amount of information and degree of interactions. Parents may invest in monitoring or filtering software to shield their kids from nefarious sites and mature content. But many parents still unwittingly neglect additional risks that may stem from their families’ online behavior. Broadening your household’s approach to cyber hygiene, therefore, can help ward off external threats as well as safeguard your and your family’s reputation and wealth.

We Are What We (and Our Kids) Post

The way in which we and our children post on social media can have legal repercussions. Despite the assumption that one is anonymous with an obscure username, online posts are discoverable even after being deleted. Families can expose themselves to a number of personal injury lawsuits, including invasion of privacy, libel and defamation of character. Think about a child who posts compromising photographs of classmates or untrue comments about another child, resulting in reputational harm and emotional distress. Next, consider a child who blogs about a peer in a derogatory manner, pretends to be that peer, spreads rumors through text messages or does anything else under the broad category of cyberbullying. The parents of the offending minor child could be brought into a lawsuit. Most states have laws regarding parents’ liability for a minor child’s wrongful acts. Generally speaking, parents can be brought into litigation for their minor’s wrongful use of the internet if the minor’s actions result in injury to another person.

In addition, a charge of negligent supervision may be brought against the parents, claiming that they could have foreseen that their child—to whom they gave that smartphone or gaming device and gave free rein to use it—could have thus caused injuries to another child and they didn’t take any action to stop it. A verdict for failure to supervise a child’s digital-media utilization can be substantial, not to mention the legal costs involved in defending oneself and one’s child. Despite the outcome of the verdict, there is also reputational harm that can befall the offending family, as a result of having been brought into a lawsuit of this kind, even if the claim was baseless.

Other Cautionary Behaviors

Reputational or physical damage can result from other online activities, particularly when children aren’t able to grasp the consequences of their actions. It doesn’t take much, for example, for “private” text messages and photos to become public. Here are some other problematic scenarios:

• Privacy settings might not be set to the maximum level, making devices more vulnerable and enabling just about anyone to “friend” your child or view the child’s posts.

• Sharing photos indiscriminately could divulge private information, such as where your family lives, where your children go to school and what specific extracurricular activities they participate in. Based on the amount of information children share online, coupled with the smart technology that we use on a daily basis, it is relatively easy for someone to create a profile of a child based on his or her digital footprint.

• “Checking in” to a location from a smartphone also presents obvious security and privacy concerns, as does posting real-time updates when your family is on vacation.

Communicate Early and Often

Many threats can be eliminated or minimized by educating your household on thoughtful online behavior. Engage your children in discussions about the legal and safety issues resulting from using social media and the internet. To further protect your financial assets and reputation in the event of a personal liability lawsuit or cybercrime, talk to an independent insurance advisor to ensure that your coverage choices not only address your lifestyle but also measure up to your family’s net worth.

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