Do children really care about privacy & data protection? (Part 2: Children online)

In Part 1 of 'Do children really care about privacy & data protection?' we explored how teachers and parents have a responsibility to ensure younger generations are safe online. Much of this responsibility stems from adults understanding these issues implicitly themselves - so they can champion good practice and safe use to children.

In this follow-up article we will look at these issues from a child's perspective. 

Digital Natives

In the last 10 years we have watched the behaviour of the world change. Sounds unbelievable but it is fact. From the richest 1% to people living in some of the poorer places on Earth, mobile technology has influenced lives and behavioural patterns. It has made it possible for these incredibly separate worlds to interact with one another. Something that Richard Branson posts on Facebook can be seen and interacted with by anyone owning a mobile device.

We saw these changes develop - albeit in a profoundly short amount of time - but the younger generation did not. Kids born today don't understand a world without Facebook! They haven't grown up in a world where food, entertainment, transport, education and Peppa Pig is not at their fingertips.

They are digital natives - they are born into tech and are growing up with tech.

What does this mean regarding privacy and data protection?  

On the one hand, many adults will agree their kids understand how to use the digital tools available better than themselves. Their kids are after all, as natural with tech as a fish is to water. On the other hand, you wouldn't give a blowtorch to a child without first guiding them in proper use...would you? 

This latter thought raises an interesting point: adults know blowtorches are dangerous. Fire = danger - we've known this since the Stone Age. What we don't know as well is Internet = danger. It is too new a discovery for the pitfalls to be ultimately realised. This means safeguarding children on the internet becomes harder - but it also means we can start leveraging their natural use of digital to help overcome this challenge.

Overcoming the challenge

So, what steps can we take to achieve this? What tools can we utilise to make digital use safer for our children? What techniques can we employ to make their data and digital presence more secure?

T&C's - opening their eyes?

In Part 1 we brought up the conundrum of Terms & Conditions - how most adults don't even read these when signing up for services such as Facebook or Gmail. This results in the blind leading the can kids possibly understand what they are signing up for if most adults don't either?

To help combat this situation the UK Children's Commissioner, Anne Longfield, has suggested two steps for schools and digital businesses to take:

1. T&C's should be simple enough for a child to understand: most adults don't read the T&C's for one simple reason - they aren't easy to read. If companies were to rewrite them into simple language more people would be able to comprehend them - particularly children. This has been dubbed by Ms Longfield as giving children power online.

2. Schools should provide Digital Citizenship education: for kids to understand their rights and responsibilities online, schools should be providing the right knowledge. Digital Citizenship education is one way to do this. While lessons such as ICT do provide basic applications in digital safety, for many these lessons start too late in a pupil's life. Instead, Ms Longfield would like to see Digital Citizenship education starting as early as 4 years old.

The first steps of a digital footprint

For many of the younger generation coming onto social media, they won't understand what a digital footprint is. This throws up all sorts of issues regarding how they operate online.

One simple test to ask pupils to do is to Google themselves - it is often surprising what information comes up! In doing this it should make the ideal of a digital footprint much clearer and instil an understanding that what goes online remains online. 

From this, it becomes easier to direct children in using social media safely. It needs to be made clear that posting rude pictures or attacking someone else online has consequences, which are not easy to escape from. However, it should also be made clear that digital footprints are not to be feared! Employing good, and safe, practice when using social media and the internet will negate the negative side.


Through this exploration, we hope that understanding issues of privacy and data protection online from both an adult's and child's perspective have been made clearer. Digital is still relatively new and there are no right or wrong ways to use it! All we can do is ensure that we, as adults, are educated on the pitfalls and pass this on to our children - the people who will be using digital more and more as they grow up.

It is not an easy task - digital now will continue to evolve; what is true today may not be true tomorrow. However, despite its evolution if the younger generation understand what their rights are as digital citizens, what they are agreeing to when they sign up for accounts, and how far reaching the internet is then they will be better prepared for tomorrow.


Thanks for reading - if there are any questions you have regarding this - or if you have any thoughts on what has been discussed - we would love to hear them. Please comment below.