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Transforming Kids From Digital Citizens to Media ALL STARS

I think we can all agree the amount of time children spend with media today is crazy high. Last year, Common Sense Media reported that tweens (kids between 10-12) spend an average of six hours per day with media; for teens it’s nearly nine. Yikes! By their own accounts, according to Pew Internet, 24% of kids go online “almost constantly” and are feeling “addicted” to their phones.

Much of what kids do online is good of course – blogging, positive social media use (if you’re 13 years old remember!), researching fact-based news, video/music production, to name just a few examples. But with the good also comes some bad—in the form of addiction, cyberbullying, lying/misleading, sexting, or other poor/dangerous digital behaviors.

It’s obvious that we, as educators, want to embrace the good and combat the bad, right? We all want kids to develop skills that encourage them to be honest, compassionate, independent thinkers and critically engaged citizens, online and off.

This should be a no-brainer, but it seems some are still a little late to the game when it comes to teaching our youth the vital life skills necessary to achieve this end. Kids who believe in a cause or want to make change is one thing. Kids who actually know how to take (digital) action is another.

At least that’s what we think here at Cyber Civics, the turnkey Digital Citizenship,

Information Literacy, and Media Literacy for Positive Participation program for middle school now being taught in 24 states and internationally. Our end goal is for kids to become digital leaders who use their online powers for good by being thoughtful and ethical media consumers AND producers. And the more they produce positive media and strive to be ethical online– the more they evolve into the kind of media ALL STARS we all want in society.

This clearly doesn’t happen overnight, or with a one lesson here or guest speaker there. That’s why we begin laying the foundation in 6th grade by teaching kids to become ethical online through real life scenarios, role play, and group discussions. Also by having students explore what the rules and responsibilities are of being part of a “community,” they can begin to reflect on what a good digital citizen really is. The 7th and 8th grade years of the program encourage students to become self-reflective of their media use, to be critical thinkers, and to explore how media is constructed and presented. For example, news legitimacy (i.e. “fake news”), visual literacy, bias and stereotypes are all covered in the curriculum.

Cyber Civics is a social class. This lets students work through scenarios with classmates, enabling them to gain different perspectives. Anytime you learn in a group, it’s powerful, engaging and more fun. They discuss topics and they disagree in passionate ways…while LEARNING at the same time.

Fake news, Photoshop disasters, sexting, and how celebrities are behaving online are classic examples of topics that are covered in Cyber Civics. Students can learn from these situations and apply that information to every area of their lives (which is mostly online, for them) – this is what will help them become the digital all-stars of the future! And as a high school educator, I can say emphatically that we NEED more of these digital all-stars.

We can be ahead of the curve when it comes to teaching kids to be ethical and empowered online, so they’re prepared to take this new wave of technology head on. Teaching kids the skills at the middle school level will greatly advance them as they enter the digital world in a high school setting.

Or we can just wait and see what they’ll do as they encounter all the challenging, untruthful, and critical information the Internet throws at them. You decide.

Peter joins the Cyber Civics team with experience in both Education as well as Marketing. He received a degree in Communication from the University of Portland with an emphasis in Media and Society. Peter has always had a passion for teaching and working with kids. In 2011 he made the switch from the business sector and has been an Educator at Aliso Niguel High School for the past 5 years. He’s also the Head Coach of both the Boys and Girls Tennis Programs. He resides in San Clemente, CA with his wife and young daughter and sees Cyber Civics as “the perfect fit” for his passions and skill sets.

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