Teaching a Digital Generation

Jason Breed – 2018-03-15

Digital Citizenship and Internet Safety Curriculum


The Issue

Technology, devices and social media are re-defining the way our children learn, engage, interact, explore and mature – both in positive and challenging ways. 

In school, we require students to have and use technology and different devices. They take tests, receive grades and manage homework – all online. At home, they are used as the “tech support” of the family (much like we programmed VCRs for our parents) providing guidance on wireless networks, teaching parents online banking, social media, how to use the latest Apps and everything else new in digital.  Our youth are connected to each other and the rest of the world 24/7.  They understand the latest trends and are almost always ahead of their elders on the digital curve.

Our children are the first generation of digital natives, yet they receive no guidance on things like:

  • What is appropriate use of technology
  • How to stay safe and aware online
  • What do digital relationships mean
  • Why their personal brand matters even as a kid (in the age of social media)

In addition to the new digital challenges above, technology is beginning to erode traditional, basic life skills.  By living life through a 5-inch screen, children do not get as much practice talking in person, reading emotions on each other’s faces and interacting in large groups.  As a result, many kids are losing the interpersonal skills like emotional intelligence (we will discuss this in-depth later), empathy, being able to carry a meaningful conversation in person or simply being able to eat a meal without staring at a device.

To compliment the digital challenges our children face: parents, teachers and law enforcement experience related difficulties:

  • Parents - are figuring out how to raise kids with devices, social media and the Internet - all for the first time.  What age is appropriate for a child to have a device? How invasive should a parent be in their digital lives? What can parents do to keep their children safe in a digital world? How can adults set the right examples and be the role model for digital citizenship?
  • Teachers – are inundated with bringing technology to the classroom including tablets, computers, online assessments and homework - all while meeting teaching standards and district expectations.  Having time to spend on teaching appropriate technology use or addressing the latest technology changes, dangers and trends is nearly impossible.
  • Law Enforcementwork to stay ahead of all the online crimes including predators targeting unaware children, the rise of human trafficking, new sites & Apps as well as issues on the dark web.  In addition, there are all the new drug and vaping trends being shared through online videos along with the dangerous “challenges” being spread around the Internet.  Examples like the Blue Whale Suicide challenge can carry grave consequences.


The Challenge

Today, most of the sheriff’s offices and school districts we work with initially report uncoordinated, one-off approaches to teaching Digital Citizenship to students. “I spend all my time trying to create this content and keep it up-to-date which leaves very little time actually teaching the students,” says Officer Jodi Hefti, Columbus PD.  “The lessons I create are the best I can do; however, I am far from a digital, internet and social media expert.” This struggle is repeated across the country.  From officer to officer, school to school, everyone is teaching different information, getting different outcomes and none of it is grounded in any type of consistent framework.  We all know that consistency in approach is the best way to achieve success and measure your results effectively.

Now states are starting to wake up to the problem and they are beginning to look for answers as well.  Leading the way, Washington state lawmakers recently approved new digital citizenship legislation that's among the first of its kind in the country.  The bill focuses on their new problem in the digital age: teaching kids what constitutes appropriate and responsible use of technology. It includes knowing what to post on social media as well as how to protect a person online.  More than twenty states are lining up behind Washington and looking at similar legislation. 

Interestingly, police departments have an opportunity to take a unique leadership role in helping school districts define the content, approach and delivery for digital citizenship, internet safety and being accountable online.


A Solution

The obvious solution is to create a think-tank of expertise including educators, law enforcement and private sector to bring together the best content from across the world, curated by digital experts - and then design modern lessons for the classroom.  Next, take all the lessons and make them available through a national not-for-profit to schools, police departments and other civic groups for free to give everyone access to a baseline of modern, effective and proven content.  Sound mythical? It’s real. The non-profit is Digital Futures Initiative (DFi).

DFi’s mission is to empower educators, parents and communities with informative, useful resources and solutions to help guide today’s digitally-connected youth on making better decisions, mitigating digital threats and using the power of digital, mobile and social media for their benefit.

DFi provides the necessary tools and training programs for educators, law enforcement (SRO’s) and parents to help them instruct kids on safer, more responsible internet and mobile use, and to better manage specific problems that can arise—including cyberbullying, sexting, online predators, substance abuse, loss of emotional intelligence, distracted driving and more.

A long time in the making, the Douglas County Sheriff’s office has been teaching this program in Colorado for the past 9 years using evidence-based strategies and partnered to create Digital Futures Initiative, a national not-for-profit to scale and make the program available to anyone in the country to use, completely free (certification and lessons).  

A quick overview on Digital Futures Initiative:

  • Digital Life Skills centered around 5 teaching areas:
  1. Digital Citizenship
  2. Relationships
  3. Substance Use
  4. Distracted Driving
  5. Parent Academy
  • Curriculum uses evidence based strategies and is updated annually
  • Formative styled lessons
  • Curriculum meets district & state education standards
  • Progressive content available for K-12th grades
  • Parent Academies to empower parents with the same digital knowledge
  • Collaboration between Educators and Law Enforcement (SROs) by design
  • Best of Public, Private and Education Sectors - all brought together


More than just Digital

In addition to providing information on digital devices, the internet and social media to teach students, DFi also incorporates activities centered around emotional intelligence.  Basic information will help kids to make more informed decisions when growing up.  However, informed decisions are not always better decisions.  For better decision making, you need to incorporate emotional intelligence as a foundation for WHY we do what-we-do on devices, the internet and social media.  From our collective experience as law enforcement officers, teachers and parents, we have all seen that the internet, social media and growing up through a 5-inch screen has been negatively impacting traditional life skills like emotional intelligence, empathy and self-worth (as mentioned earlier in the article).

So, what is emotional intelligence?  You have probably heard of IQ which is the measure of intelligence.  IQ determines how smart you are and how well you do on tests.  We can debate nature vs nurture, however what we do know is that IQ’s stay relatively the same from ages 15 to 50. They simply don’t change much regardless of education. 

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) on the other hand, CAN change over time.  Sometimes referred to as street smarts, EQ is seen as a strong key to lifelong success and is used to identify leaders, good team players and higher productivity levels.  EQ is influenced by lifelong experiences and can be improved (or destroyed) over time.  Emotional intelligence is a person’s ability to perceive, use, understand and manage emotions and is an essential component of teaching students about citizenship and appropriate use on the internet, social media and devices.


A “Turn-Key” Program

Digital Futures Initiative (DFi) was created to deliver digital life skills to students and parents in an innovative, consistent way.  Lessons are designed by curating the best and most current content available in the world and the curriculum is made available for FREE to any school, county or group who needs it.  The program includes all of the self-paced online training, powerpoints, images, videos, presenter’s notes, and in-class activities that are needed to start teaching digital citizenship in your classrooms today.  No more spending nights and weekends working to gather the latest information and create your own lessons.

If you would like to bring the Digital Futures Initiative program to your community or school, simply contact us at info@DFiNow.org or go to www.DFiNow.org and sign-up to start your online certification to become an instructor by going to the “Get Certified Now” button in the “Tools and Resources” section of the “For Instructors” tab.  We are all dependent on the future successes of today’s youth.  Become part of a movement to empower them today.