Privacy and Security Resources for Elementary School Children, Parents, and Teachers

Elementary school-aged children have a limited understanding of online privacy and security risks and how to manage them, relying mostly on parental guidance to stay safe on the web. Yet, parents often defer teaching their younger kids about online safety because they do not feel that their children face significant risks prior to using social media and interacting with others on the web. Even young children face privacy and security threats such as being exposed to inappropriate content, inadvertently divulging private information, and communicating with unknown people online. Despite these issues, there has been little research on equipping elementary school-aged children with the skills they need to stay safe online.

This project focuses on the following research questions:

  • What are the most pressing online safety skills elementary school-age children should develop?
  • What do elementary school-aged children, their parents, and teachers perceive as the most appropriate ways to engage children in online privacy and security issues?
  • How should information about privacy and security issues be imparted to children (e.g., via a game, an app that facilitates conversations between children and their parents or teachers, a classroom lesson, etc.)?
  • What are the design implications for technologies that teach parents, kids, and teachers about online safety at home and school?

To date, we have published research from this project at CSCW, CHI, and IDC. Paper abstracts and PDFs are linked below, along with blog posts, media articles, and press mentions of our research.

Kumar, P.C., Chetty, M., Clegg, T., & Vitak, J. (2019). Privacy and security considerations for digital technology use in elementary schools. Proceedings of the 2016 Annual Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) (pp. forthcoming). New York: ACM. [pdf]

Abstract: Elementary school educators increasingly use digital technologies to teach students, manage classrooms, and complete everyday tasks. Prior work has considered the educational and pedagogical implications of technology use, but little research has examined how educators consider privacy and security in relation to classroom technology use. To better understand what privacy and security mean to elementary school educators, we conducted nine focus groups with 25 educators across three metropolitan regions in the northeast U.S. Our findings suggest that technology use is an integral part of elementary school classrooms, that educators consider digital privacy and security through the lens of curricular and classroom management goals, and that lessons to teach children about digital privacy and security are rare. Using Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, we identify design opportunities to help educators integrate privacy and security into decisions about digital technology use and to help children learn about digital privacy and security.

Keywords: privacy, security, technology use, elementary school

Kumar, P. C., Vitak, J., Chetty, M., & Clegg, T. L. (2019). The Platformization of the Classroom: Teachers as Surveillant Consumers. Surveillance & Society, 17(1/2), 145–152. [open access]

Abstract: Technology platforms, including learning management systems and monitoring tools, have taken root in schools. While seen as bringing efficiency or innovation into classrooms, they also offer greater capacities for surveillance. Drawing on findings from focus groups with teachers in the US, we explore how teachers’ use of technology platforms produces surveillance. We argue that this positions teachers as surveillant consumers who use monitoring as a way to fulfill their responsibilities to students. We portray two configurations of monitoring in the classroom: tracking student learning and keeping students on task. These configurations reveal how technology platforms orient teachers to see student data as interchangeable with students, which we believe highlights the need for greater scrutiny of technology platforms’ role in the classroom

Kumar, P. (2018). The Contextual Integrity Framework as an Educational Tool. CSCW 2018 workshop: Privacy in Context: Critically Engaging with Theory to Guide Privacy Research and Design, Jersey City, NJ, November 4, 2018. [pdf]

Abstract: In this paper, I describe how my colleagues and I used Nissenbaum’s contextual integrity (CI) framework as an analytical lens to explore how children ages 5-11 conceptualize privacy online. I then consider whether CI can be an educational tool to help children develop privacy decision-making skills. This departs from CI’s primary focus of informing the design or evaluation of technologies, as well as the policies that govern their use. But it could bring the theory to new constituencies, including children, parents, and educators.

Keywords: contextual integrity; privacy decision-making; children; parents; educators

Kumar, P., Vitak, J., Chetty, M., Clegg, T.L., Yang, J., McNally, B., & Bonsignore (2018). Co-designing online privacy-related games and stories with children. Proceedings of 2018 ACM Interaction Design and Children (IDC) Conference (pp. 67-79). New York: ACM. [pdf] [Summary blog post]

Abstract: Children ages 8-12 spend nearly six hours per day with digital content, but they receive little formal instruction related to managing privacy online. In this study, we explore how games and storytelling can inform the development of resources to help children learn about privacy online. We present results from three co-design sessions with a university-based inter-generational design team that included eight children ages 8-11. During these sessions, we reviewed existing privacy resources with children and elicited design ideas for new resources. Our findings yield several recommendations for designers. Specifically, online privacy- focused educational resources should: (1) include relatable elements such as familiar characters and easily understandable storylines, (2) go beyond instructing children through “dos and don’ts” and equip children to make privacy-related decisions, and (3) expose children to a range of privacy consequences, highlighting the positive and negative outcomes that can result from disclosing and managing information online.

Keywords: Children; privacy online; mobile games; storytelling; narrative; Cooperative Inquiry; co-design.

Kumar, P., Naik, S.M., Devkar, U.R., Chetty, M., Clegg, T.L., & Vitak, J. (2017), ‘No telling passcodes out because they’re private’: Understanding children’s mental models of online privacy and security.  Proceedings of the ACM: HCI: CSCW, Vol. 1, No. 1, Article 64. [pdf]

Summary blog post | Princeton CITP post | Slate article | Terp article | CSCW blog post

Abstract: Children under age 12 increasingly use Internet-connected devices to go online. And while Internet use exposes people to privacy and security risks, few studies examine how these children perceive and address such concerns. To fill this gap, we conducted a qualitative study of 18 U.S. families with children ages 5-11. We found that children recognized certain privacy and security components from the contextual integrity framework, but children ages 5-7 had gaps in their knowledge. Children developed some strategies to manage concerns but largely relied on parents for support. Parents primarily used passive strategies to mediate children’s device use and largely deferred teaching children about these concerns to the future. We argue that helping children develop strong privacy and security practices at a young age will prepare them to manage their privacy and security as adolescents and adults. We offer recommendations to scaffold children’s learning on privacy and security.

Keywords: Elementary school-aged children; parents; Internet-connected devices; privacy and security online; contextual integrity; online risks; Internet safety


Workshop: The team also ran a full-day “designathon” on conducting participatory design research with children at the Symposium for Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS). For an overview of what the workshop covered, see our report: Designing Privacy and Security Tools for Children and Teenagers.