Be Internet Awesome Teaches Kids to Be Safe Online

Technology and the internet are integral to our daily lives these days, and just like we teach our children to be careful and good citizens in the real world, we need to teach them to do the same in the online world. For adults who are less tech-savvy than their kids, that can be a challenge. National PTA has partnered with LifeLock for several years to provide The Smart Talk to help parents have conversations with their children about technology and online behavior.

This week, Google announce the launch of Be Internet Awesome, a new interactive way for kids to learn how to be smart, positive, and kind online. Developed in collaboration with online safety experts like Family Online Safety Institute, the Internet Keep Safe Coalition, and ConnectSafely, Be Internet Awesome focuses on five key lessons to help kids navigate the online world with confidence:

  • Be Internet Smart: Share with care
  • Be Internet Alert: Don’t fall for fake
  • Be Internet Strong: Secure your secrets
  • Be Internet Kind: It’s cool to be kind
  • Be Internet Brave: When in doubt, talk it out

To engage kids in a fun and interactive way, Google created an online game called Interland. The game is free and web-based, so it can be played in any browser on a computer, tablet, or phone. In the game, kids travel to four lands to battle hackers, phishers, oversharers, and a bullies while practicing the skills they need to be good digital citizens.

Resources for Adults

But the Be Internet Awesome initiative isn’t just for kids. Google worked with the Internet Keep Safe Coalition and educators from across the country to create a classroom curriculum that brings the five principles of the program into the classroom.

There are resources for families as well. To help you talk with your child about online safety, there is the #BeInternetAwesome Challenge, a video series that makes talking about online safety easier for families. In addition, there is the Be Internet Awesome Pledge that families can use to reinforce the importance of being smart, alert, strong, kind, and brave online.

Bullying Doesn’t Happen Where You Think It Does

Where does bullying take place? Most parents would answer out on the school grounds, in the cafeteria, or perhaps in a bathroom or locker room—all places where teachers are less likely to be present or where there are a lot of kids. A new report from the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics shines a surprising light on where bullying takes place.

The most commonly reported place to be bullied for students ages 12 through 18 was actually in a hall or stairwell, with 41.7%. The figure was nearly identical for boys (41.8%) and girls (41.6%). This finding is somewhat surprising, as students only spend a tiny fraction of their day moving between classes. It also provides important information on how schools could potentially reduce bullying by having teachers in the hallway outside their classrooms during passing periods as well as monitors in the stairwells.

The second most common location was actually in a classroom, with 33.6% of students reporting being bullied there. In an article about the study on Edutopia, author and former teacher Stephen Merrill speculated that such bullying might be more common during the transitional moments in the classroom when students are arriving, moving between activities, or leaving the classroom—all more chaotic times that are more difficult for a teacher to manage.

The remaining locations for bullying that were surveyed were in the cafeteria (22.2%), outside on the school grounds (19.3%), online or by text (11.5%), on the school bus (10.0%), and in a bathroom or locker room (9.4%).

If your PTA would like to address the bullying issue in your school, take advantage of PTA’s Connect for Respect program. This turnkey program provides your PTA with all of the materials and resources needed to assess your school’s current climate, to engage the school community in dialogue, and to develop and implement an action plan.

News from the Illinois PTA Convention—Report on Young Adults in the Justice System

Delegates at the 2016 Illinois PTA Convention passed a resolution creating a committee to study whether those young adults aged 18 to 21 involved in the justice system should be treated differently from older adults based on the latest scientific research on brain development. At the 2017 Illinois PTA Convention, that study committee presented its report and recommendations. The report presents the three areas of focus that the committee investigated—brain development, age divisions, and what other jurisdictions are doing, both in the United States and overseas.

Brain Development

The report notes that current research into how the brain develops indicates that the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that regulates self-control and reasoning—continues to develop well into a person’s mid-20s. In addition, a recent study indicated that when faced with a threat or “negative emotional arousal,” those aged 18 to 21 had diminished cognitive performance—essentially reacting like a much younger teenager would. Additional research has shown that the lack of judgement and willingness to take risks continues to approximately age 25. This “maturity gap” is what has had older adults talking about “those crazy kids” and the stupid or dangerous things they do for centuries.

Age Divisions

Under the current legal structures in Illinois and the United States, young people become mature, responsible adults on their 18th birthday, and when they commit a crime, they are treated as such. But as the research noted above indicates, turning 18 is not an accurate dividing line between youth and adulthood when it comes to judgement and responsible behavior. When looking at crime and arrest data, approximately 30% of those arrested are between the ages of 18 and 25, with a sharp decrease in first-time arrests after age 25. In addition, the research also indicates that those young adults ages 18 to 25 are much less likely to be arrested again for crimes when diverted away from the standard adult justice system. Finally, much of the literature on how to treat these young adults in the justice system recommends a two-tiered system, treating those ages 18 to 21 more like juveniles while treating those 22 to 25 as emerging adults.

Other Jurisdictions

Several states and other countries are beginning to incorporate the latest research into brain development and information drawn from crime statistics to change how they treat young adults in the justice system. In 2016, Vermont passed a law allowing defendants ages 18 to 21 who are not charged with specific serious crimes to apply for youth offender status, allowing them to be tried in the juvenile justice system. California has recently begun a pilot program in five counties that allows those 18 to 21 who have not committed serious crimes to use the education and support services of the juvenile justice system, serve one year of their sentence at a juvenile facility, and have their criminal record expunged if they successfully complete the program. Massachusetts and Connecticut have both had legislation introduced to increase the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 21. Overseas, Italy treats young offenders ages 18 to 21 in the same manner as the new Vermont law. Germany and Sweden also treat those 18 to 21 more like juveniles than as adults.

Conclusions and Recommendations

While the resolution creating this study committee was directed at young adults ages 18 to 21, the committee believes that the science on the topic merits differentiation in consideration from adults up to age 25. The emerging consensus in the justice system is to treat those 18 to 21 more like juveniles, while treating those 22 to 25 as emerging adults. The specifics of how this differentiation is implemented continues to be a work in progress.

The committee made three recommendations, all of which were adopted by the 2017 convention delegates:

  1. That the Illinois PTA recognizes that youth from the age of 18 to 25 have a different maturity level from that of adults over that age, and that should affect their treatment within the justice system.
  2. That the Illinois PTA will take positions on legislation as it is introduced to address the age cohort, based on a study of their needs and our policies.
  3. That the Illinois PTA amend the Legislation Platform of the Illinois PTA, by adding a new Item 11-e. “Support of laws and regulations in our justice system that address the differing needs of youth as they continue to mature from age 18 through and including age 24.”

The Eraser Challenge Returns—What Families Need to Know

Social media “challenges” can spread quickly. Some, like the Ice Bucket Challenge, are relatively harmless and can make a difference in the world. Others, like the Cinnamon Challenge, can have serious consequences. Illinois PTA works to keep families informed about these activities that children are often engaging in without adults’ knowledge, such as with the Choking Game.

Now, a “game” that has been around for many years is making a resurgence on social media. The Eraser Challenge involves rubbing an eraser across the skin while having to do or say something. One common thing is to recite the alphabet while doing the challenge. The challenge is sometimes done as a competition to see who drops out first.

The result of participating in the Eraser Challenge is often a burn or an open wound. While an eraser burn may not sound serious, doctors are warning that they can be extremely painful and lead to scarring. In some cases, there have been serious infections that have resulted in hospitalization. In 2015, a high school student in California was hospitalized for toxic shock syndrome from a strep infection of an eraser challenge wound.

Parents should keep an eye out for injuries particularly on their children’s arms, often on the softer inside of the arm or the back of the hand. If you notice such an injury on your child, ask them how it happened. Wash the injured area with soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment, and follow up with your child’s doctor if it doesn’t start to heal in a few days.