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One of the activities at the U.S. Safer Internet Day celebration at Universal Studios Hollywood on February 9th was for the 300 middle and high school students attending to break into small groups to help resolve some critical questions that have been plaguing companies, nonprofits and government agencies involved with online safety.
Each group of five students from the same school was given one of eight questions to answer during the event. Students were briefed in advance on all eight questions but didn’t know which one they would be assigned to tackle until the activity started late Tuesday morning.

The activity was lead by ConnectSafely K-12 education director Kerry Gallagher along with #iCANHELP co-founder Matt Soeth. Kerry, a former middle and high school teacher, also serves as a digital learning specialist in a Massachusetts secondary school. Matt is a former teacher and student activities director.
Each group of students were given poster-sized paper and Sharpies to write down their answers. The judges and other mentors circulated around the room to help the students, when necessary. At the end, the posters were collected by the judges who selected a winner for each category but there were also some great entries that didn’t make the final cut.

There were some interesting challenges along the way. For example, one of our judges, Hemu Nigam, reported that one table had a heated discussion about whether sexting was even a real problem or just something that others label as “wrong.” Another table struggled with a question due to language barriers – showing the challenges of teaching online safety inside a diverse single school.

Questions and answers
So, here are some of the questions along with some of the smarter answers.

Question: What are some simple things people can do to protect themselves online?

Winning school: Kennedy High School (Granada Hills, Calif.)
Judge: Hemu Nigam

  • Use a virtual-private network (VPN) to conceal your online identity and location
  • Don’t use your real name as your username
  • Don’t make your password your birthday
  • Be anonymous
  • Put tape over your laptop’s camera
  • Use anti-malware software and an ad blocker
  • Keep your computer’s operating system and software up-to-date
  • Avoid phishing sites that can trick you into revealing personal information.

Question: How do we achieve better balance in our lives between school, family, friends, activities and our use of tech?
Winning school: Nobel Middle School (Northridge, Calif.)
Judge: Tshaka Armstrong

  • Learn to divide your time between your priorities: school, family, friends and technology
  • Form an on campus club where students could meet with mentors and peers to discuss and develop time-management skills and programs that help them live a more efficient lifestyle
    • Use media/technology to help broadcast and motivate others to join the club
    • Use social media and flyers to publicize the club’s achievements.

Question: What can teenagers do to support others in their efforts to adopt and use technology safely and productively?
Winning school: Nobel Middle School (Northridge, Calif.)
Judge: Michael Kaiser

  • Encourage private accounts
  • Give advice about being safe on social media – including:
    • Don’t share personal info on social media (address, phone number, etc.)
    • Don’t trust others until you know who they really are
  • Organize an assembly at school
  • Perform skits  and really encourage NO BULLYING (or BE SAFE)
  • Make videos/movies that encourage people to be safe
  • Whoever joins a safe/anti-bullying club gets entered into a raffle or wins a prize
  • Decorate school with meaningful messages
    • “See Something Say Something”

Question: What are our rights and responsibilities as creators and consumers of digital media/content?
Winning School: Taft High School (Woodland Hills, Calif.)
Judge: Catherine Teitelbaum

  • Create knowledgeable and trustworthy content that is important.
  • Create a democracy-based environment from consumers that will invest in the items.
  • Be positive, self-aware, generous and humble.
  • Protect our content from people stealing creative property. Secure it.
  • Because of social media, there are higher standards, unrealistic ideas of how people should look, live, act … which creates less self-confidence.
  • We have the right to post whatever we want but we should monitor our content considering other people’s feelings.
  • We have the right of free speech but the responsibility to use speech wisely.

Question: How can we encourage empathy and support among our peers online? What about among adults?
Winning school: Olive Middle School (Baldwin Park)
Judge: Mia Doces

  • Tell them your experience and stories and explain how you dealt with the situation and how it becomes better. You can tell your stories in a personal message as well
  • Talk to them directly
  • Post stories anonymously
  • Share your stories to writers
  • Put up positive posters around campus.

Question: What do we want to say to our parents and teachers about kids’ use of technology?
Winning school: Grossmont High School (El Cajon, Calif.)
Judge: Kim Karr

  • Encourage better communication between kids and parents that enables trust and honesty
  • Encourage open conversations between adults and children (about its positive and negative effects)
  • Run workshops discussing pros and cons of media (Internet/technology is a powerful tool that when utilized correctly has power to spread positivity and initiate change.
  • Use social media to spread awareness about issues in the world that go beyond our community and encourage others to take actions to resolve these issues
  • Organize local events and invite anyone in the community to come and spread the word via social media
  • Create a YouTube channel and use other social media to spread awareness about the positive ways students are using technology
  • Have a social media awareness day at schools with teachers, parents, and kids.

Question: How can school counselors and administrators support students when they make mistakes posting on social media?
Winning school: Grossmont High School (El Cajon, Calif.)
Judge: Hallie Saber (substitute for Marsali Hancock)

  • Counselors should not try to connect with the students but instead refer the students to someone who has gone through similar issues.
  • We would form a group called Helpful Hillers (Hillers is the school nickname)
  • Students who have a passion for helping others would be members of Helpful Hillers
  • The Helpful Hillers would meet one day a week
  • If students want help any other time they can text the Hiller Helpline which would refer them to someone in the Helpful Hillers program.
  • From experience we would not necessarily go to our counselors for advice, but the advice from people with personal experience would be more valuable and helpful.
  • We cannot make a completely safe environment, but can create a safer Internet.

Question: Sexting: Is it a problem? Why do people do it? How do we educate others about the risks?
Winning school: Kennedy High School (Woodland Hills, Calif.)
Judge: Allison Smartt

  • Yes, sexting is a problem. They look for self approval, e.g. compliments.
  • Sexting is not only sending nudes, and asking for things through text.
  • Sexting mostly affects girls. Younger girls especially, and they get taken advantage of. Rumors get spread and photos get leaked and these girls get bullied, slut shamed and said horrible things to.
  • We should end sexting or at least lessen the impacts so that both the sexter and sextee do not endure the same consequences.
  • We can educate each other by alerting both teens and children that text messages should never contain people without clothes, kissing or touching each other in inappropriate ways. Make sure kids of all ages know that sexting is serious. Students should be educated about the consequences. Peer pressure is a major factor getting teens to sext to find some sort of approval.


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