What do kids think of privacy and online safety?

What do you think a class of 5th graders would answer if you asked them if they should be allowed to have Facebook accounts? Do you think most of them would want to be on social media? Think again, most don’t believe they should.

Surprised? So was I. Recently, a class of 5th graders wrote persuasive essays on whether kids as young as 10 years old should have Facebook accounts. I was fortunate enough to be invited to their class to talk with them about their thoughts on online safety and privacy. Receiving student feedback is challenging and they can be brutally honest. But if we make a conscious effort to listen to students and their ideas and concerns we can gain great insight into what our talks about student privacy should be about. The biggest takeaway from the visit for me was that students care about their information and being safe online. They want adults to know that at the end of the day the focus should be on students and how we can protect their information. Whether it is with appropriate safeguards for online safety or protecting their privacy in schools with the educational software they use. Students want teachers and prospective schools to know about them as learners but they want to have control of the information they think is important for teachers (and schools) to know about them.

Brenda Leong, Fellow at the Future of Privacy Forum, and I sat down to talk about my class visit. Having a conversation with students highlighted the need to remember that our debates on student data privacy are about students and how it affects them.  It certainly brought the conversation back into focus.

You can watch our conversation here:

Protecting kid’s privacy in the classroom and beyond

iKeepSafe, the Internet Keep Safe Coalition is an organization that provides resources for parents, educators and policymakers who teach youth how to use new media devices and platforms in safe and healthy ways. Their vision – to see generation’s of children grow up safely using technology and the Internet to become full digital citizens.

They invited me to submit my thoughts for their blog. You can read it here – Protecting kid’s privacy in the classroom and beyond

I invite you to take a look at their website. It contains valuable resources on digital safety for parents and educators.


Educational technologies are always changing and this poses a great challenge to parents and educators as our main interest is to keep children safe but encourage the technology we think shall best support our young learners. The effective and cautious use of data can improve student’s’ school experience. It can ensure that each student is receiving the personalized instruction they rightly deserve.

But there are challenges in maintaining a safe environment for children when using educational software. It is imperative that parents are informed and involved in the decisions to allow their children to have accounts at educational websites. Reading Terms of Service, while tedious and uninspiring, is important. Bill Fitzgerald has a great primer on how to“triage” Terms of Service and Privacy policies. We must continually work at improving best practices and helping parents, educators and school districts understand their rights as digital citizens. We need a system that encourages and supports parents and students to be advocates for their privacy. For in their educational careers students will trip, fall and get up – and they must know that no one will punish them for this. We must build bridges of trust between parents, educators and ed-tech companies. We all need to be smart and read terms of service and privacy policies and decide whether they make sense, comply with COPPA and work for our children.

So what works for our children? Recently, a class of 5th graders wrote persuasive essays and one of the lines (amongst the many brilliant ones) was “Kids have brains.” The topic – “Should 10 – 11 year old kids have a Facebook account?” I was fortunate to be invited to their class to talk about Facebook, online safety and what they thought of their privacy. Kids can be more perceptive than we give them credit for, and in this conversation I learned that they are very much aware of how their information can be used.

Most kids did not think it was ok for them to have a Facebook account. Some worried about how safe it was while others didn’t want their information out “there” forever. Some said they should be allowed to have an account but had strong feelings about their parents helping them navigate the online world. Certainly eye opening. Others didn’t think adults cared about their privacy. They were surprised to know of the laws passed and debates taking place around the country. But the majority agreed that it is important for the right people to know information about them as students. As one student said “it’s useful if my teacher next year knows about me and how I learn because then they can help me.” Kids get it but they want a voice in the decision making process.

Protecting student data and privacy is a challenge. Let’s be smart and work together;, we have an opportunity to shift the conversation with students at the center of the discussion. It is the only way to protect kids. We can’t afford not to do so.