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Digital citizenship — merging youths' social media 'know-how' with parents' 'know-when' and 'know-why'

Diana Graber stands at the blackboard while teaching a course she calls "cyber civics." Graber and the school systems at which she teaches think it's important for students to know best practices for online etiquette and behavior.
Diana Graber stands at the blackboard while teaching a course she calls "cyber civics." Graber and the school systems at which she teaches think it's important for students to know best practices for online etiquette and behavior.
Nirzhar Pradhan

Nowhere is a generational gap more apparent than when it comes to technology knowledge and application. For example, think of phones — from desktop to digital and cellular. Think of dialing those phones — from rotary and touch-tone to touch-screen. Think of those calls — from local and long-distance audio to Skype and FaceTime visuals.

About the time the grandparents are figuring out Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, the younger generation has long since moved on to the newest social medium available.

And consider the ages of the young people you’ve seen — young children, if you will — who are using cellphones, smartphones, iPads, tablets and the like and who are as comfortable with a desktop or laptop as they are with the TV or DVR.

But while the younger generation knows the high-tech “how,” the older generation has the experience and savvy to better understand the other questions — the “when and when not to,” the “why and why not," the “what is the impact” and the “who will be affected?”

Not that the older generations always make the right decisions to those questions — they can be just as guilty when it comes to the likes of cyberbullying, sexting and the sort. But because of the maturity, recognition and abilities that come with age, those older should be better equipped to make those decisions.

Digital literacy is becoming a key component to the education of our youths, as evidenced by its inclusion in the Common Core standards. But literacy is not enough — digital ethics and the like need to be in the mix as well for children and youths, who spend more time with media than they did in the classroom or with their parents.

One such option is the Cyber Civics program, as highlighted on Page A1 of today’s Deseret News — a program that not only helps the young students learn digital citizenship but also creates dialogue with their parents and helps the latter get up to speed in accessing, understanding and navigating the same digital landscapes as their children.

Cyber Civics is an ambitious effort — an hour-long weekly class over three years for early teens in grades six through eight, or about the age when cognitive skills are being developed. In addition to educating youths on how to appropriately and ethically use social media, it also educates parents with seminars and in-home participation, getting all involved in dialogue, use and understanding.

Already in use by a couple dozen schools (mostly Waldorf schools) in four different states, it could be easily adopted by traditional and charter schools, with the curriculum costs very affordable.

At question — particularly for traditional schools — are the other “costs.” Would administrators commit to the training or hiring of an instructor to teach the course? Would they allot an hour of the class time each week — at the expense of the traditional schools’ test and test-prep schedules? Would they be in it for the three-year long haul, or instead try to get by treating digital citizenship with an annual assembly or a possible student-elective class?

At the Aliso Viejo, California, school where the 16-year-old daughter of Cyber Civics founder Diana Graber attends and where the class has been taught for the past six years, school administrators report zero incidents of cyberbullying or digital trauma during that six-year span.

Journey School executive director Shaheer Faltas said, “It’s a gamble not to teach this.”