Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Gift Kids Really Want: A Digital Parent!

Yesterday I taught one of my favorite Common Sense Media lessons during a 6th grade Cyber Civics class. Called “Chart It,” this lesson challenges students to think through online ethical dilemmas — like a friend posting an unflattering photo on Facebook, a classmate cutting and pasting freely from the Internet for a homework assignment, or a girl posting misinformation on her blog. This lesson helps kids explore whether online acts like these are intentional or unintentional, and meant to be hurtful or helpful.

We spend a lot of time in this class sharing examples of online interactions like the ones above. And parents, I really hate to be the bearer of bad news, particularly right before the holidays, but guess what? Most of their examples involve us. Here’s what the kids say:

-My mom intentionally posted an unflattering photo of me on Facebook that was embarrassing and hurtful.

-My parent posted a picture of our family in Hawaii unintentionally showing us away for the holidays. This could end up being helpful to burglars.

You get the idea.

After one of these lessons, a boy said to me, “You really should be teaching this class to our parents.”

Get Digital is a course created exactly for this reason.

This series of online, self-paced lessons helps grownups understand the essentials of digital life. In fact there is a whole unit of classes in this course on “Digital Citizenship” that includes many of the lessons I’ve been teaching to kids for the past four years. Just launched in time for the holidays, this CyberWise Certified course makes a great gift for teachers tasked with teaching digital literacy, parents looking to understand the digital world our kids inhabit, and administrators looking to understand how digital media impacts education. It’s a gift that delivers lifelong returns.

When I told the kids about “Get Digital” for grownups, they immediately wanted to know if it included lessons about the social networks they love most, like Instagram, Tumblr, and Snapchat. (It does).

Here are a few other precious take-aways for parents from the kids:
  1. Don’t talk so much on the phone in the car or in public places.
  2. Learn some of the online games we play, and maybe even play with us.
  3. When something bad happens, instead of restricting us from technology, help us understand and talk about it first.
  4. No smartphones or iPads/tablets at school and sporting events, please.
  5. Help me do my schoolwork online (telling me not to use Wikipedia doesn’t count).
  6. At least try to learn more about social media and technology so we can talk about it with you.
In other words, get digital. We hope to see you online!

A Case for Cyber Civics

Cross-Posted on iKeepSafe's Blog.

My daughter, who is busy working on her college applications, received this message from her counselor yesterday:

Just received an email from the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC)… a friendly reminder that colleges are reading your social media.

Today, in addition to having a sky-high GPA and equally impressive test scores, kids also need to have a squeaky clean “digital footprint.” Unfortunately, by 12th grade that “digital footprint” might as well be set in stone, it’s permanent and it started taking shape the day they posted their first picture on Facebook.

Last week I introduced the concept of the “digital footprint” to a sixth grade class just starting to use social media to define themselves to the world. Pretending they had to hire someone for a job at their school, students conducted “background checks” on potential candidates by studying each applicant’s social media accounts. What they learned through this exercise is that everything you say and post online, and everything other people say or post about you, becomes part of your “digital footprint.” This is the same digital footprint that college admissions officers will potentially see and judge them by; the same digital footprint that will help shape their future.

I’m fortunate to be able to spend an hour per week with grades 6-8 teaching CyberCivics. We cover important topics like online reputations, online safety, copyright, plagiarism, cyberbullying, and more. According to research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, our kids are spending more time online than in school or with their families. So I was surprised to read in the L.A. Times earlier this week, this concern posed about teaching students lessons on “copyright”:

"While it's certainly a worthy topic of discussion with students, I'm sure some teachers would have a concern that adding anything of any real length to an already packed school day would take away from the basic curriculum that they're trying to get through now," said Frank Wells, spokesman for the California Teachers Assn.

That was a concern at our school too, however in the three years of our pilot program the school’s API (Academic Performance Index) score has risen steadily and significantly, despite the loss of “academic” time. It’s also given the administrator more time too, as incidences of “cyberbullying” and such that used to find their way into his office a couple times per week have virtually vanished since we started the program.

It's ironic that the prevailing attitude is that there is no time to educate students about their digital behaviors when it's these very behaviors that could prevent them from pursuing a higher education in the first place.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The CRAP Kids Learn in School

Cross-posted on iKeepSafe's Blog

Digital Media Literacy education is primarily a top-down endeavor: adults design curriculum based upon what they think kids should know about the digital world. It’s sort of like Martians deciding what Earthlings need to know about life on this planet. Sure we do our best, but at the end of the day many of us are still trying to sort out the difference between a text, a tweet, and a timeline. Additionally, while we generally cover the risk-prevention/online safety stuff well; we're not so good at imparting the skills that actually empower kids to use their digital tools masterfully.

So why not ask kids directly what it is they think they need to know?  Believe it or not, they will generally give you some very smart answers.  

For example, at the completion of a three-year pilot program in Digital Citizenship, Information Literacy, and Media Literacy at Journey School, what we call Cyber Civics, I asked the kids to tell me which lessons they found most valuable.

The overwhelming answer?  CRAP Detection. Yes I admit, that’s an acronym hard to forget. But it’s also an incredibly useful tool for finding the trees in a forest of online information. In short, CRAP Detection comes from the book, NetSmart: How to Thrive Online (2012) by Stanford University Professor, Howard Rheingold.  It suggests that we evaluate online information based on the following criteria:

Currency -
          -How recent is this information?
          -How recently has the website been updated?

          -What kind of information is included in the resource?
          -Does the creator provide references or sources for data? Or quotations?

          -Who is the creator or author? What are their credentials?
          -Who is the publisher or sponsor? Are they reputable? 
Purpose/Point of View -
          - Is this fact or opinion? Is it biased?
          - Is the creator/author trying to sell you something?

The second two things the kids liked learning about most were Copyright and Plagiarism. Now this was surprising to me, because those aren’t topics you’d think an 8th grader would remember fondly, yet as one student wrote,

“I liked learning about copyright rules so I don’t get arrested or kicked out of high school.”

Here are the other lessons the students liked most:  

“The most valuable thing I learned was to check to see if websites are trustworthy.”

“That every time you post something online it sticks onto your digital footprint like permanent glue.”

“That technology shouldn’t take over our lives.”

“That passwords should be around 8 characters w/symbols and numbers.”

“That people in magazines are photo-shopped and no one is perfect.”

And finally,

“Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your parents to see.”

Amen to that.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 and Ask Again

By: Piper Graber, Age 14. Piper is the narrator of What Kids Are (Really) Doing Online. Cross-posted on iKeepSafe Blog.

Image is from home page of, account is public (user is not subject of this story).
Last month my mom wrote on this blog (see below) about an incident that happened in my 8th grade class surrounding, a website that lets users pose and answer questions anonymously:  

A student in our class was the recipient of a cruel post on In this case, the victim was smart, and shared this information with a trusted adult. Their teacher turned this unfortunate situation into a terrific learning opportunity by addressing the situation in class, and also alerted the parents. The parents responded largely by advising one another to have their kids drop the site.

This post is a follow-up:

After spending a good part of my last week of school discussing a “bullying” situation that happened on, I was shocked when I saw a post on Instagram by the same girl who was bullied. She posted, “Ask me questions” with a link to her re-opened account.

After my initial disbelief, I decided to click on the link and see for myself if she really had reopened her account. Lo and behold, she had. I was angry and upset that she decided to ignore all the advice given by her teacher and classmates after three long days of discussing the incident. After all, we had all come to the conclusion that given her situation, it would be best for her to discontinue her account on Her mom even sent emails around to all the parents of the class assuring everyone that her daughter would never use that site again (and suggesting that we shouldn’t use it either).  

So I decided to “ask” her this question:

“Why would you put yourself in the same situation after making such a big deal about being bullied the first time around?”

Thoroughly puzzled by her motives, I was anxious to see the answer she would give me, but the answer I received was not quite what I was looking for. Instead she responded eloquently: 

Go  (blank) a (male’s private parts).”

Now the thing I’d like to point out here, is that the device did not make her respond the way she did. In fact, it did not force her to respond at all. This was a result of her own thinking skills. So before you blame the tool, remember it’s not the phone’s job to raise your child. It’s yours.

And taking away the shoe isn’t going to stop your child from walking.

So my advice is this: When it  comes to digital tools and your kids, don’t just ask once, but ask and ask again. Here is a helpful list of things to ask your child:
  • If you can’t take the heat of a potentially cruel statement online, should you be using that app or website in the first place?
  • Do you ever post anything that you wouldn’t want your grandma to see?
  • If something cruel has happened to you before online, have you taken steps to make sure it won’t happen again (like blocking anonymous questions on
As a daughter, I would rather have my mom ask me these questions and even ask to look at my social network accounts with me, rather than going behind my back, or worse, not asking me anything at all. So remember, just ask, and ask again.

Unfortunately in this case my peer didn’t get a chance to be in the Cyber Civics classes in 6th and 7th grades where we talked about all this stuff. Too bad, because then she wouldn’t be asking for more trouble on

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Prepare or Protect? A Question About

What is it with parents and the knee jerk reaction to technology?

Here’s an example… someone is mean to our child on _______________ (fill in the blank with today’s most popular app/social networking site). We response by either,

a) taking the device away, or
b) demanding they delete the offending app and/or social networking site from their device.

Problem solved.

But is it, really?

This all-too-common scenario played out in our Cyber Civics class last week. The offending site was In case you aren’t familiar with it, is a service that lets users pose and answer questions anonymously. It’s integrated with other popular social networking sites like Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter, which means responses are posted on those sites too. What kids like about is its anonymity. However it’s this very feature that potentially makes it fertile ground for cyberbullies. In fact, has fallen under a lot of scrutiny recently due to allegations that activity on the site has led to a half dozen teenage suicides. Meanwhile, the number of people who use the service has swelled to 50 million in just a short period of time.

Just the thought that this site might be responsible for teen suicide is enough to make us want to protect our children from it. However, when it comes to technology, or anything for that matter, it’s our job not just to protect, but also to prepare our kids.

A student in our class was the recipient of a cruel post on In this case, the victim was smart, and shared this information with a trusted adult. Their teacher turned this unfortunate situation into a terrific learning opportunity by addressing the situation in class, and also alerted the parents. Parents responded largely by advising one another to have their kids drop the site. While this is certainly a valid option — part of being a digital citizen is realizing we have choices, and those choices influence what survives in the marketplace — it might not be the wisest long-term solution.

This is best explained by’s news Ann Collier:

So there’s always going to be a site that everybody’s going to love to hate, and we’re not helping children develop the self-respect, empathy and resilience that will truly protect them by getting caught up in an endless frustrating game of whack-a-mole. It also doesn’t help our credibility with our kids and – even when sites show little or no corporate responsibility – the sites aren’t the root problem.

If it’s not today, then it’s going to be something else tomorrow (or yesterday, like Vine). It’s time for us to face the fact that technology isn’t going anywhere. In order to be resilient digital citizens our kids need be prepared with strategies that enable them to thrive in the digital world.

That’s what our Cyber Civics classes are intended to do — prepare kids to be wise and capable users of the tools. Asking them to shoot the messenger, so to speak, doesn’t achieve this goal.

This unfortunate incident provided an excellent opportunity to investigate how to use the site wisely.  For example:

  • Users can choose to prevent anonymous questions by going to their privacy settings and selecting, “Do not allow anonymous questions.” 
  • In the event you observe someone violating the “Terms” of the site (you and your child can read these together), such as the rule prohibiting “pornographic, obscene, offensive, threatening, harassing, libelous, hate-oriented, harmful, defamatory, racist, illegal or other wise objectionable material or content,” you can (and should) do something about it. Report the incident by clicking on “report as” which appears below every question, answer and comment. On mobile apps you can tap the flag button.
  • Or you can directly contact a guy named Eric, whose link is found on the site.

Although leaving the site is certainly a respectable option, learning (and teaching) how to be a proactive user might be a better solution. Or writing about what you don’t like about on other social networks, as many of the victim’s classmates did, is also a terrific way to demonstrate proactive behavior. Bad conduct happens online and off.  Doing something about it instills, in the words of Ann, “ self-respect, empathy and resilience.” 

Now that’s a lesson worth learning. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

What Kids Are (Really) Doing Online

Maybe you’ve heard? It appears that Facebook is losing its groove. A recent survey of 5,200 teenagers found that while 33% called Facebook their “most important” social network in Spring ‘12, by Spring of this year that number had fallen to just 25%.

An unofficial survey of the eighth graders in my Cyber Civics class at Journey School yielded even worse news for Facebook. During a project that involved using social media, I asked the students how many of them used Facebook and not a single hand was raised. Instagram? Every hand shot up.  Other social networks of choice included Snapchat, Vine, and Kik Messenger.

If none of these apps sound familiar to you, you’re not alone. Most parents (and educators) are largely unaware of what their kids are doing on their digital devices, and that’s too bad because research shows that kids look to their parents more than any other source to learn how to conduct their online lives. It’s hard to be a good role model when you don’t know what it is you are modeling.

We hope that this video: “What Kids are (Really) Doing Online” will help. It’s a key element of iKeepSafe’s BE a PRO workshops to improve family literacy sponsored by Verizon Wireless and the California School Library Association (CSLA). The first phase rollout, called “BE a PRO Mobile: Connect with Confidence” is currently being introduced to a few select California schools. These workshops help bridge the generational gap many families are experiencing with technology by providing digital literacy and citizenship education. 

In addition to being research-based, this video has also been kid-approved. The narrator is not a professional voice actress but an actual device-using, 14-year old (full disclosure: my daughter) whose agent (my other daughter) insisted that her participation in this project be contingent upon full script-approval. In other words, what you will learn about “What Kids Are (Really) Doing Online” comes directly from the source.
If you have any questions after watching, please visit the NewsWise section of the CyberWise website for current news articles and research about what kids are up to online. Good luck.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fun with Passwords

Recently, while giving a presentation on "Digital Literacy" to a group of K-8 parents, I shared some interesting data from a Pew Internet  & American Life Project report regarding kids and their online passwords. In this study Pew found that 30 percent of 12-17 year olds who were regularly online had shared a password with a friend, boyfriend or girlfriend, and that almost half of those 14-17 do the same. In fact, in more than two dozen interviews, parents, students and counselors said that the practice had become widespread.

When a parent in the room asked me why kids share their passwords, I couldn’t give them a good reason. So I decided to take this question directly to the students in my 8th grade Cyber Civics class.

Their response? Simply this: they like to share. Remember, this is a generation who has grown up immersed in an online world where the ethos of community, collaboration, and networking is the norm. Here are three examples from their online world:

  • Wikipedia: The free online encyclopedia that everyone can edit and use.
  • Instagram: The online photo and social networking site that also lets users share what they upload with friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Flickr: the online photo-sharing website where everyone can upload and view one another’s photos.

The other reason kids like to share their passwords, according to this 8th grade class, is because passwords are hard to remember, so it helps to have a friend who can help remember them for you.

This second reason provided an opportunity to use a terrific lesson that gives kids a strategy for making and remembering passwords. This lesson (albeit a bit tweaked) comes from Common Sense Media’s Digital Literacy and Citizenship free curriculum.

For this lesson every student received a slip of paper with the name of a famous person on it (an actor, musician, political or historical figure). Their task was to create password using that person as a mnemonic device while also following five simple rules (parents take note, these rules are for you too!). Every password should:
  1. Include upper and lowercase letters.
  2. Include numbers and symbols.
  3. Be at least eight characters in length.
  4. Contain no personal information.
  5. Use no words found in the dictionary.

Kids love challenges like this one and these students came up with some really creative and funny passwords. But the best part was the follow-up activity: every student wrote his or her password on the board, then the entire class tried to guess the person behind each password by playing a “Charades”-like guessing game.

Here’s an example of one of their passwords:


In case you can’t figure it out… the mnemonic device for this password is the singer, Adele. It includes the first initials of her well-known song “Set Fire to the Rain”, she is 24 years old, from the UK, and she rocks (!!).

You get the idea.

While it’s always a good idea to remind kids about the potential downsides to sharing passwords with others (i.e., friends might post unwanted information or photos onto their social networking sites), it’s also smart to equip them with practical tools that will keep them safe online.

It also doesn’t hurt to have a little fun at the same time.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Lesson in CRAP Detection

A Lesson in CRAP Detection

Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. Just consider two recent events in the news. Young girls, unable to recognize an online hoax called #CutForBieber, upload bloody photos of self-inflicted wounds to Twitter to show their concern for Justin Bieber’s alleged marijuana use. Meanwhile, 21-year old Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o falls for and carries on a serious relationship with an online girlfriend who doesn’t actually exist. Just last week, while interviewing Te’o about this well-publicized affair, Katie Couric asks him if he’s “technologically challenged.”

Couric asks an important question. If Te’o, Bieber’s fans, or any of us for that matter, can’t evaluate online information well enough to recognize online hoaxes like these when we see them, then yes, we’re technologically challenged.

Perhaps we could all use a lesson in CRAP detection.

At Journey School in Aliso Viejo, CA, we turn to the second chapter of the book, NetSmart: How to Thrive Online (2012) by Stanford University Professor, Howard Rheingold for our Cyber Civics classes on Information Literacy. I like Rheingold’s approach to evaluating online information because there’s not a 13-year old alive whose ears don’t perk up when you start talking about CRAP.

It captures their attention just long enough to allow you to suggest they ask the following questions when evaluating online information:

Currency -
          -How recent is this information?
          -How recently has the website been updated?
          -What kind of information is included in the resource?
          -Does the creator provide references or sources for data 
            or quotations?
          -Who is the creator or author? What are their credentials?
          -Who is the publisher or sponsor? Are they reputable?             
Purpose/Point of View -
          - Is this fact or opinion? Is it biased?
          - Is the creator/author trying to sell you something?

Sometimes a scatological acronym is just the thing kids need to help them remember how to be critical thinkers online… and to avoid unnecessary pain and fake girlfriends.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

10 Tips for the New Year

If your child is like most, he or she is probably starting out the new year as the proud owner of a new digital device. A gift from you perhaps? If so, don’t let the gift-giving end there. Give the best gift of all: 10 TIPS to help them use their new phone, tablet, PC, laptop, or other digital tool wisely and safely:

1. Set Limits. Talk to your child about how to set appropriate limits for time spent with their digital devices. A good rule of thumb is to keep bedrooms device free at night (after homework) and to ban digital tools from the dinner table.

2. Manage Privacy Settings. If you haven’t already set the privacy settings on your own social networking sites, like Facebook, this is something you and your child can do together.  Decide who can see what they post online and how people can connect with them. Chances are you’ll both learn something in the process.

3. Read Privacy Policies. Yes, these can be long, dull and boring; but Privacy Policies are important to read, so try this: It reads privacy policies and user agreement for you and quickly scans them to flag words, statements, and phrases worth your attention.

4. Turn on the “Do Not Track Tool.”  Most Internet browsers have a "Do Not Track" tool to tell sites you don't want cookies installed on your device. In case you didn’t already know this, "cookies" are what websites drop on your computer to track your activities.  You can manage these by tweaking your preferences.

5. Have the Talk (about passwords). According to a Pew Internet Study, 1 in 3 teens have shared a password with a friend. Encourage your child to keep their passwords private and teach them how to make a strong passwords by following simple rules, like combining upper and lower case letters with numbers and symbols (and never include personal info!).  

6. Keep Personal Info Personal and Don’t Chat With or Send Photos to Strangers. The good news is that kids already know this. Research shows that adults actually share personal information more freely online than kids do. So here’s where we can work a little harder to be better online role models.

7. Ask Permission. Requiring your child ask permission before signing up for anything online is a good policy and it goes hand in hand with tip #8.

8. Be Vigilant. Teach your child how to recognize tricks and mechanisms the online world uses to try and access our personal data (like links on emails we don’t recognize). 

9. Respect Age Limits on SNS’s. Data shows that close to half of online teens admit to lying about their age in order to access a website. Just like we teach our kids to be ethical, law-abiding citizens of the offline world, show them how to extend these same behaviors into the online world. And remember that it’s smart to let kids develop the maturity needed to deal with the many ethical decisions that loom in cyberspace.

10. Finally, Give the Gift of Gab. Talk to your child. Chances are you’ll learn something from them about how to use your own devices more safely and wisely!

 Lastly, hopefully your child is lucky enough to learn some or all of these lessons in school. If not, why not advocate for digital literacy, cyber civics, and/or digital citizenship classes in your own school? It's a gift we could be giving to all our kids.

Cross-Posted on iKeepSafe Blog