As my kids get older, I’m beginning to wonder how the heck I’m going to teach them about the internet.
I came of age alongside the internet, so I was already a teenager when I started using it.
Besides being (reasonably) developmentally rational when I was first exposed to the internet, its reach also wasn’t nearly as huge and pervasive as it is now.
But the point is, I never really learned how to use the internet as a child, so I’m now struggling with teaching lessons I never learned to my own children.
Luckily, Google has created a pretty nice framework for explaining the basics to kids. And it’s actually pretty fun to use too.
What is Google’s “Be Internet Awesome” Campaign?
According to its website, Google’s “Be Internet Awesome” curriculum
“…teaches kids the fundamentals of digital citizenship and safety so they can explore the online world with confidence.”
These fundamentals are made of up five “pillars” called the “Internet Code of Awesome” which are:
- Be Internet Smart: Share with Care. This section covers what types of things are okay to share (or not share), and with whom to share (or not share) them.
- Be Internet Alert: Don’t Fall for Fake. This emphasizes media literacy skills and helps kids figure out how to decide if the information they encounter is true, false, or somewhere in between.
- Be Internet Strong: Secure Your Secrets. This pillar educates kids about the importance of keeping personal information private through methods like creating strong passwords, etc.
- Be Internet Kind: It’s Cool to Be Kind. This section encourages kids to choose positivity over negativity in their internet interactions.
- Be Internet Brave: When in Doubt, Talk it Out. This area teaches kids it’s best to reach out to a trusted adult to talk if they come across internet activity that makes them uncomfortable.
Google created the curriculum for school use, but it has also adopted a guide for family-specific use because as the guide states,
“Teaching digital safety and citizenship is a crucial component of today’s classroom, but home will always be the foundation of any child’s learning, and healthy online habits are no different.”
Below I outline what I found to be the most important points of the Family Guide.
Family Guide Review
The Family Guide has sections for each of the five “Be Internet Awesome” pillars mentioned above.
The discussion of each pillar includes a “Goals” portion, which outlines the purpose(s) of the pillar, a “Vocabulary” section, which defines certain words as they are used in internet-focused discussions for that pillar, and a “Scenarios” and/or “Activities” area, which gives concrete scenarios or hands-on activities families can examine to better understand the concepts of each pillar.
Below are my notes on highlights from each section. Although these cover similar issues as other articles I’ve read about introducing kids to the internet, “Be Internet Awesome” does bring up some important points I had not come across in other sources.
Smart: Share with Care. A unique point this section addresses is that if kids use parental devices, parents need to be aware if there’s any information on the device that the child should not share outside of the family, and discuss this with the child.
It also brings up another often overlooked but important issue to point out to children, which is “…it’s also important for kids to realize that everyone has a different comfort level around what gets shared publicly about them.” Therefore, kids should ask if it’s okay to post about other people before doing so.
Alert: Don’t Fall for Fake. The discussion of this pillar includes a family activity which gives instructions on how to practice surfing the web together. The steps include talking through which websites seem like they have accurate information (and why) as well as prompts to think critically about and discuss the reasons each person formed his or her opinion (exploring the idea of personal bias, etc.).
I’ve heard about teaching these types of media literacy skills to kids, but I think the idea of learning them in a hands-on way as a family could be extra beneficial in helping them sink in for kids.
Strong: Secure Your Secrets. The family activity for this section is a simple but effective way to practice creating secure passwords. It suggests writing a sentence together that’s significant to the family, and then altering it (through abbreviations, changing letters to symbols, etc.) until its a (mostly) hack-proof combination.
Although this is a group activity for the family, the guide emphasizes that parents should tell kids that normally, passwords should be individually determined because “…it’s a good idea to get used to the idea that passwords are not to be shared. Period. Not with BFFs, first cousins, or even immediate family members. They’re personal.”
Kind: It’s Cool to Be Kind. The family activity for this section is a good method for demonstrating to kids how what they write on the internet or via text isn’t necessarily communicated to their recipient in the way they intended it. It suggests family members read texts out loud in various tones to show the many ways that one phrase could be interpreted.
I also like how this section emphasizes the importance of family in helping work through internet communication misunderstandings. As it points out “When somebody messes up (and this is surprisingly easy to do online — even unintentionally), family members are more likely than anyone to understand, forgive, and help each other learn from mistakes.”
Brave: When in Doubt, Talk it Out. This area of the guide discusses what kids should do, “when they see inappropriate content or behavior online.” It suggests a unique idea which I had not come across before, which is to decide as a family on an “Internet Help Protocol Plan.” This plan, “…doesn’t have to be complicated — just an activity for getting everybody thinking about why and how to ask for help when things get ugly online.”
Aside from the helpful family activities for each pillar, the guide includes links to some simple but fun online games that also reinforce the lessons from each section. These exist in “Interland” and have a fun design (akin to Monument Valley).
So far, even though I’m not that great at navigating them, my kids really love them, and it helps in keeping them interested in learning about the overall content of the guide.
My one qualm with the guide is that its content is aimed at a very general age-range of kids and so it would probably be helpful to supplement this information with more age-specific guidance.
But that flaw is understandable since the guide is more of an introduction/overview intended to open up the digital citizenship conversation with kids.
That focus on “having the conversation” is really the most valuable aspect of the guide. It empowers families to not be afraid of the new and often intimidating to teach lessons about the ever-changing internet landscape.
And most of all the guide emphasizes how families are so important to helping kids navigate that landscape because the lessons about privacy and kindness that parents teach their children in real life provide the essential foundation that kids need to build experiences as good citizens, both on and offline.