‘It’s Their World:’ Teaching Kids to Be Safe, Digital Citizens

‘It’s Their World:’ Teaching Kids to Be Safe, Digital Citizens

October 04, 2012 at 7:47 am

Even sixth graders have stories to tell about inappropriate behavior and harassment online.

Asma Ahmed, 12, had an experience she knew wasn’t right and on Tuesday, she shared it with her classmates and teacher, Emily Koch, at West Side Collaborative Middle School.

At the age of nine, Ahmed had already signed up for an account on Fantage, an online game site. After not logging on for some time, she checked it again. Another user chatted her right away.


Emily Koch leads her sixth grade class in a Common Sense Media-designed lesson on how to know when an activity online is inappropriate.

“When I checked it again, he said like, you know, he said ‘Hey Cutie’ and he was like ‘What’s up?’ and I like, I just ignored him and I deleted him right away,” she told MetroFocus after class.

“I didn’t want to have anything to do with that,” she said. “I’m a little girl still. You never know how old he is or anything.”

Internet safety and online bullying as it relates to children are pressing concerns around kitchen tables, at the highest levels of the federal government, and at Common Sense Media, a national organization that helps families and children understand the world of media and technology.  In the past three years, the nonprofit’s Digital Citizenship lesson plans, a curriculum that teaches kids how to safely navigate the online world, has been used by more than 35,000 schools across the country.

NYC Schools Commissioner Dennis Walcott visited a middle school classroom on Tuesday for Digital Citizenship Day. Walcott said it's not enough to be a citizen anymore, we have to be digital citizens. MetroFocus/ Matt Chao.

One of them is West Side Collaborative Middle School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. On Tuesday in a fourth-floor classroom — the walls covered in lessons written with thick-tipped markers — teachers, administrators and New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott gathered for Digital Citizenship Day, sponsored by Common Sense, the New York City Department of Education and the New York City Council, to talk about teaching kids digital literacy.

Common Sense’s curriculum is used in classrooms across the city, and teaches proper online behavior to students, which allows the Department of Education to develop “21st century students,” said Walcott.


NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott explains why giving kids the tools to be productive digital citizens is a crucial goal of educators.

Common Sense provides digital literacy training to schools and parents across the country free of charge. It is  partnered with the NYC Department of Education through the Connected Learning program, which is  funded by a federal program related to broadband use, BTOP (Broadband Technology Opportunities Program). The lessons incorporate videos and  scenarios in which a child may have to make a decision on his or her own, such as deciding whether to be “friends” with someone online, or what do do if a stranger asks for personal information. In completing a lesson, a child’s  efficacy is evaluated by a third party, in addition to teachers and students.

Programs like the one designed by Common Sense are a necessity for  schools that want to keep up with the digital age. In 2011, the FCC released rules amending the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which says that any school or school district applying for federal E-Rate discounts to spend on technology updates, must provide Internet safety lessons to students.

Mike Lorion, general manager of education at Common Sense, said kids ages 2 – 11 make up “9 percent of the total online world,” which includes those using games, videos and educational tools, and 43 percent of teens say they prefer to communicate through social media. No wonder then, that education advocacy groups, school officials and the federal government are working to make sure youth know how to safely navigate the online world.

In New Jersey last week, Assemblyman Angel Fuentes introduced legislation that will mandate social media training for students in grades six through eight, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering creating a digital literacy corps that will instruct parents, students and job seekers at libraries and schools on how to use Internet. Just this week, the Federal Trade Commission announced it would overhaul rules governing what kinds of information kids websites collect that can “identify or locate individual children.”

But at a time when many students in New York City schools are struggling with basic academic subjects like math and reading, is there really time for digital literacy training?

According to teachers and administrators, the answer is yes, but the reasoning is nuanced.

“It is their world. It is their entry point to their world,” said West Side Collaborative Principal Jeanne Rotunda. “They will be using technology just like you all do, so they will be needing to have exposure to all the issues around that world…It’s a program that raises student awareness and critical thinking.”

Walcott agreed.

“It’s just dealing with another issue that really goes to the basic core of learning and learning in a responsible way,” he said.



MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.


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