The Conundrum of COPPA: Expecting Our Children to be Principled About Honesty While Allowing Them to Falsify Information

Tim Schwartz

Tim Schwartz

Apps for smartphones and rapidly evolving web technologies have changed the technological landscape dramatically in the last few years. Many of these technologies have immense appeal for both adults and children. As educators, we are constantly discovering new technologies that can be used to enhance classroom instruction.

One such technology is called Tinkercad. It is 3D Modeling software which is completely web-based so you can do it in a web browser.  

Last Winter I taught a group of twenty 3rd and 4th grade students how to use Tinkercad so they could design their ideas and then print them out on the school’s new 3D printers for their unit on economics.

This next part of the story is where you will begin to understand the conundrum.

The teachers loved the idea of the students coming up with their own ideas and then learning how to design them in 3D. Everyone was excited to get started, 

The problem was that the Tinkercad Terms of Service required users to be 13 years old in order to create an account. Tinkercad, like other commercial websites that require users to create accounts, is bound to follow the federal law known as COPPA. In a nutshell, COPPA, or the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, was created to protect children’s privacy and safety**.

Our solution was to have each of the ME teachers create accounts for themselves and then to share their credentials with the students.

I was excited about the opportunity to teach 3D Modeling to the students, but I was even more excited by the opportunity to start a dialog with the students about creating accounts online. The dialog about creating accounts goes right to the core of one of the key building blocks of digital citizenship - honesty.

Before starting to actually demonstrate the use of Tinkercad,  I engaged the students about creating accounts on websites where the terms of service require you to be 13 years old. My excitement soon turned to shock when I asked the students if they thought it was ok to lie about their age in order to create an account and almost all of them said yes.

The unfortunate truth is that many elementary age children at Whitby already have accounts at websites that required them to lie about their age. We know that there are many students under the age of 13 who already have their own Gmail***, Facebook or Instagram accounts.

I am ending this story by posing a few questions that I hope will inspire our community of learners to reflect on.

How can we expect our children to be principled about honesty if we allow them to lie when it suits their needs? 

If we allow them to lie about their age when creating accounts online, how can we expect them to be honest about what they are doing on their laptops or how long they have been on their computers or who they are talking to online or what information they are sharing with friends or strangers on those same social media websites where we allowed them to create accounts in the first place?

Digital Citizenship starts at home.


*Tinkercad has recently changed their Terms of Service to provide users under 13 a pathway to creating accounts without having to lie.

**COPPA does not apply to the school’s use of student gmail accounts through Google Apps for Education where the school owns the domains and controls the distribution of the accounts.

Tim Schwartz

Tim Schwartz

Tim Schwartz is the Director of Innovation for Whitby School. He is always on the look out for opportunities with the potential to unleash creativity, transform teaching and learning, optimize school operations, improve organizational culture and streamline administrative processes. He likes exploring and challenging big ideas as well as implementing and evangelizing technological solutions. Tim enjoys presenting and writing about digital citizenship, technology, education, content marketing and the Maker Movement. He has high-standards because he knows that with the right inspiration and support, everyone can be better. And he wants you to know that he is not the droid you are looking for.