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Building a Brighter Digital Future, One Classroom at a Time

This story was featured in the Deseret National News...

Earlier this year, middle school teacher Diana Graber’s 16-year-old daughter popped her head into Graber’s office asking for advice.

Her concern wasn’t about school or boys but, to Graber’s surprise, Instagram.

“She’d taken this shot of herself and she wanted to know if she should post it,” Graber said. The photo was fairly standard fare for Instagram — a picture of Graber’s daughter in a bathing suit. The two considered the angle and what Graber’s daughter was trying to accomplish with the photo. In the end, the photo was posted with some editing input from Graber and her daughter went on with her day.

“A 16-year-old asking for guidance posting an Instagram — I consider that a major victory,” Graber said. “Kids today know a lot more about technology than their parents do, and we can’t talk at them about this because we don’t get it.”

For many kids and teens who grow up with social media and parents who don’t always understand it, knowing what’s safe and what’s not can be difficult. When her daughter was younger, Graber says she feared that her daughter could get into trouble online and Graber wouldn’t know how to help her. Like many parents, she vaguely understood the notions of cyberbullying or how a photo or status update could impact her child’s future job or college application prospects, but she wasn’t sure how to prevent them from happening.

Graber turned her fears into an educational opportunity. She went back to UCLA and got her master’s degree in media psychology and social change and six years ago, wrote the curriculum of a three-year weekly program she calls Cyber Civics.

Written for grades six through eight, Cyber Civics covers a wide breadth of skills needed for the digital world, including respectful communication skills, sourcing accurate information, and forming a responsible digital footprint in the form of thinking before posting photos or comments online. So far, it’s been picked up by 23 schools across four states. Graber’s daughter took the course when she attended Journey School in Aliso Viejo, Calif., where Graber teaches.“

I was right there with her when she was 13 and she got on social media, so she’s used to having me in her digital world,” Graber said. “It’s how we’ve parented offline for ages — giving input and being present in their decisions.”

Graber’s program has great timing for schools that must integrate digital literacy training to align with newly adopted Common Core standards, which require students to not only learn how the Internet works, but how to use it responsibly and safely. But Graber says the program is also a good learning opportunity for parents and families who feel overwhelmed by technology their children pick up naturally.“

We’re at the moment where this (education) has to happen for both parents and kids to be comfortable and safe in the digital world,” Graber said. “This is our moment.”

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