The KOALA Hero Toolkit – An Innovative Approach to Digital Parenting Presented at CHI2024

In today’s digital age, children are growing up surrounded by technology, with their online activities leaving digital footprints that are tracked, analysed, and often monetized. While the digital landscape offers countless opportunities for learning and exploration, it also exposes children to a myriad of datafication risks, including harmful profiling, micro-targeting, and behavioural manipulation.

Families are increasingly concerned about the risks associated with extensive use of the digital technologies. Digital monitoring-based technologies, enabling parents to restrict, monitor or track children’s online activities, dominate the market space. Popular apps as Life 360, Google Family Link, Apple Maps, Qustodio, and Apple screen time, are widespread. According to the latest Ofcom report, in the UK, 70% of parents with children aged 3-17 have used technology to control their child’s access to online content. A similar report is found in the US, with 86% of parents with children aged 5-11 years having reported restricting when and for how long kids can use screens, and 72% using parental controls to restrict how much their child uses screens.

Research has shown that such approaches have limited efficacy of keeping children out of the bound of the digital space or prolonged screen time usage that parents have hoped for. At the same time, the risks associated with these approaches are much less discussed, such as their potential to undermine family trust relationships or prevent the development of children’s self-regulation skills. With modern families increasingly struggling with their children’s relationship with digital technologies and lack of effective and clear guidance for them, new approaches are urgently needed.

The KOALA Hero toolkit has been co-developed with families and children by Oxford researchers over several years. It achieves several key features:

  • Promote family awareness development: By providing families with insights into datafication risks, i.e. how children’s data may be collected and processed, and used to affect what they see online, the toolkit empowers families to make informed decisions about their online activities.

  • Support interactive learning: Through both a digital and physical component, and the provision of interactive activities and discussion sheets, the KOALA Hero Toolkit facilitates meaningful conversations between children and parents, fostering a deeper understanding of digital privacy and ethics.

  • Encourage family engagement: By providing worksheets guidance families conversation and interactions with the toolkit and involving both children and parents in the learning process, the toolkit strengthens familial bonds and promotes collaborative problem-solving.

We assessed the toolkit with 17 families, involving 23 children aged 10 to 14. We found that families developed better awareness of the implications related to datafication, in comparison to their prior understandings. The toolkit also enabled families to feel more ‘equipped’ to discuss datafication risks, they can take a more balanced, joint family conversation.

These findings provide positive indications for our approach of encouraging proactive family engagement, instead of focusing on controls and monitors. We also identified some limitations of the current toolkit. We hope to improve the toolkit and work with a larger sample through a longer-term study before sharing the toolkit in the public app store.

The full paper is presented at CHI2024 Honolulu and can be found at doi or publication.

Please reach out to Dr Zhao for a private demo of the toolkit or for collaboration of further family studies. Further information can be found at:

This research has been supported by the Oxford KOALA IAA grant and OMS EWADA (