Program Combatting Privacy and Tech Overuse Encourages Students to Take Control
Dignity—it’s not a word often associated with social media and online interaction. However, as part of a new education program from Seton Hall Law School’s Institute for Privacy Protection, communication, community, and dignity are key themes of the curriculum. Overall, the goal is to educate students and parents about privacy and technology overuse. But they try not to shame the students and parents, said Gaia Bernstein, law professor and director, Institute for Privacy Protection at the Seton Hall University School of Law, and Najarian Peters, Assistant Professor, Institute for Privacy Protection at Seton Hall Law School. During the recent edWebinar, “Educating Students and Parents About Privacy and Technology Overuse,” they explained it’s counterproductive to become another authority figure telling students what not to do. Instead, by encouraging students to share their stories and having them explain how technology impacts their lives, the program gives students the agency to take control over their technology use.
The program, which is taught by Seton Hall law students, targets students in fifth and sixth grade, typically the age when they get their first cell phone. It’s a time when parents feel like they are losing control of their kids, yet the kids still have the capability to learn good technology habits. Since students are getting phones at younger and younger ages, though, they don’t have the cognitive ability to understand the ramifications of their actions and need parental guidance. Thus, the program has both a student curriculum and parent talk. Parents need to learn what privacy really means in the digital world. Moreover, as many kids model their tech habits on their parents’, the parents need to understand the impact of their tech use on their children. Finally, the program focuses on collaboration and helping students and parents discuss good technology habits together.
Within the student curriculum, there are four hour-long modules:
- Introduction to Privacy
- Reputational Harm and Digital Footprint
- Ads and Content Choice
- Online-Offline Balance
For each module the lessons focus on teaching students how the tech works and getting them to talk about how technology is affecting them. With ads and content choice, for instance, the students learn how their search terms are tracked and how that influences what ads appear on websites. Then, the program leaders ask the students what they think and what actions they could take.
Through these discussions the law students and program directors have found that students already have a lot of feelings and opinions about the intersection between technology and privacy. For example, many streaming channels autoplay TV episode after TV episode, and the kids report feeling unsettled, like they can’t get away. The Seton Hall program teaches students to set resolutions and concrete boundaries for technology.
As the parent talks are shorter, they don’t include every module. Here, the conversation centers around students’ digital footprints and a healthy technology balance. Again, the presenter doesn’t lecture the parents and tell them to keep their kids offline; the presenter will acknowledge the good in the digital world, like communication and access to information. Then, they talk about the negatives, such as the wrong picture following a student from middle school to college and beyond. The parents learn how to manage their children’s tech use and, more important, how to talk to them about it. In addition to the parents working with their children, they are also encouraged to work together to tackle digital access uses.
Lastly, during her parent talks Bernstein cautions parents about relying on the law to help. COPPA, for example, doesn’t extend to sites like Instagram or Pinterest, and companies’ data privacy policies typically are just stating what they can do with the data and aren’t offering any protections.
“One of the main things I do in my talk is shatter this myth that the law is Superman—that the law is going to protect us,” she said. “Unfortunately in the case of privacy law even for kids, there is very little protection.”
About the Presenters
Gaia Bernstein is a law professor and director of the Institute for Privacy Protection at the Seton Hall University School of Law. Her forthcoming book, The Over-Users: Happiness, Technology Addiction and the Power of Awareness, describes the harms of excessive use of phones and screens for adults and kids and examines legal measures to reduce overuse of devices. Gaia’s research has been featured extensively in the media including the New York Times, Forbes, ABC News, and Psychology Today.
Gaia has spearheaded the development of the Institute for Privacy Protection’s Student-Parent Outreach Program, which operates in schools in New York and New Jersey. The Outreach Program addresses overuse of screens by focusing on developing a healthy online/offline balance and the impact on privacy and online reputation. She delivers lectures about ways for individuals and groups to address the harms of excessive device use. For additional information, see her website at gaiabernstein.com.
Najarian (Jari) Peters, Assistant Professor, joined the Institute for Privacy Protection at Seton Hall Law School in 2017. Najarian is an attorney and privacy compliance professional with over 10 years of experience in academic, health care, and private organizations. She co-developed the Institute’s curriculum focused on elementary and middle school children and trains law students in the Institute’s curriculum. She earned her undergraduate degree in political science from Xavier University of Louisiana and her Juris Doctor from Notre Dame Law School. Najarian also holds graduate certifications in pharmaceutical and medical device law and policy compliance and healthcare compliance from Seton Hall Law School.
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