Keeping Safety First

By William Weber

In the mid 1990s, then-First Lady of Utah Jacalyn Leavitt noticed the new technologies that were coming into the classrooms of her five children and were also coming into use in her home. A former school teacher, she saw that these new tools had great potential for learning and communicating, but also provided the opportunity for misuse. So she decided to use her public role to advocate for Internet safety and awareness across her state.

“When we began, we were talking about ‘stranger danger’ and predators and also being aware of inappropriate content or ads,” she recalls.

After leaving the governor’s mansion in 2005, when her husband, Michael Leavitt, was appointed U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services by President George W. Bush, Jackie Leavitt carried her mission to Washington, D.C., and founded the Internet Keep Safe Coalition (iKeepSafe), a broad partnership of governors, first spouses, attorneys general and law enforcement officials, and public health, education, and industry leaders. The organization has become one of nation’s leading advocates on children and the Internet, and Leavitt was honored for her work in June by being named a 2009 Cable’s Leaders in Learning Awardee.

Leavitt has seen the world of Internet education evolve significantly since those early days.

“At first, of course, predators were the main focus, and that’s something we continue to do,” she said in a recent interview from her Utah home. “Now, it’s really about ethical behavior and understanding the long-term implications of the Internet, because it’s such a public place. It isn’t just online safety – it’s about safe, healthy, and responsible behavior online.”

The ‘Three Keeps’

To get that message across, Leavitt and the staff at iKeepSafe, led by president Marsali Hancock, have developed a multifaceted education approach centered on the iKeepSafe website. These include resources for parents and educators, Internet-smarts games for kids, videos on Internet safety, and a children’s book series authored by Leavitt that explores various aspects of Internet safety through the exploits of Faux Paws the Techno Cat.

At the core of the Faux Paws series, as with much of the iKeepSafe mission, is what Leavitt calls the “three keeps.”

“It has to do with teaching young people to keep their private information to themselves and realizing that personal info needs to remain private,” she explains. “And with that, we have the three ‘keeps’: keep safe your private information, keep away from Internet strangers, and keep telling your parent or trusted adult.

“The overall concept is that the Internet is a very public place. That’s what we continue to stress with secondary students. They need to understand that the Internet is not your private venue. And then that evolves into your general reputation. We are focused right now on creating a teen effort, so they can understand the long-term implications.

“The heart of this thing is that we have an empowering message for youth,” she says. “We encourage and are positive about the use of technology. We can’t live without it. But it’s this powerful tool that has a flip side that you need to understand. It’s good, and you need to use it appropriately and in a healthy way, or it has repercussions and negative risks.”

‘Three Keeps’ for Kids

  • Keep your personal information safe.Never give your real name, address, phone number, the name
    of your school, or a photo of yourself to anyone online.
  • Keep away from Internet strangers.On the Internet, you don’t really know who people are, no matter what they tell you. Do
    not talk to strangers online and never meet them face-to-face.
  • Keep telling your parents. Tell parents or guardians about everything you see online – especially when it is something
    that makes you uncomfortable.

To get its message to the widest audiences, iKeepSafe is focusing on two fronts – families and educators.

To reach parents and caregivers, the organization has partnered with cable provider Comcast and the attorneys general offices in Virginia, Washington, Michigan, and Utah to provide copies of the books and other materials to students, distribute an Internet safety parents’ presentation on DVD and via Comcast’s On-Demand service, and host public-awareness events.

Leavitt’s team also worked with Comcast to produce a half-hour program on cyber bullying for its award-winning “Student Voices” show. The program, which delivers its message through the frank comments of real teens, won a regional Emmy and has been distributed to 96 U.S. Attorneys through the Department of Justice’s Project Safe Childhood initiative.

“We have appreciated our relationship with Comcast so much,” Leavitt says. “We really complement each other.” Noting that Comcast in Vermont is soon to join the campaign, she added, “Depending on the state and what they want to do, we are able to help. We have the same goal in mind – we want to encourage students and youth to use technology in a safe, wise way.”

Tools for Teachers

In its outreach to educators, iKeepSafe has developed a comprehensive educational tool called the Digital Citizenship C3 Matrix, which integrates the essentials of cyber safety, cyber security, and cyber ethics into current technology and literacy standards and curricula. The matrix breaks the three Cs down by three progressive levels of cognitive complexity, based on young people’s abilities to understand the practices that are outlined. [Editor’s note: The iKeepSafe matrix was the centerpiece of the Summer 2009 issue of Cable in the Classroom’s journal Threshold. The issue, which was published in partnership with iKeepSafe and Common Sense Media, focused on online safety and digital media literacy. It is available online as a download; see Related Resources below.]

“It’s a great product and training outline that arms students with the tools they need,” Leavitt says. “It predicts what helps individual students at the different levels to prepare and to contribute ethically and wisely.

“Thank heavens that schools, and legislators and communities, are realizing that this is not just about tell kids one time when they’re in 6th grade and then they’ve got it. It has got to be multilevel and age appropriate. It’s an ongoing process. You begin early, and you talk about it often.”

To spread word about the matrix, iKeepSafe’s leaders have been making the rounds of major education conferences to give presentations. The organization also has partnered with the Harvard Center for Media and Child Health to promote the matrix in the health care community. Overall, Leavitt says, educators are increasingly receptive of the matrix, because of its age-appropriate approach and also because it provides a way for schools to fulfill their Internet safety­­ education requirements from the federal E-Rate program.

Empowering Parents

At the end of the day, it’s up to parent to guide their children, Leavitt says. And she realizes from firsthand experience how daunting the task can seem.

“It requires diligence on the part of parents, which is so challenging because kids use every nuance of technology,” she says. “We want them to have these 21st-century skills, but parents have the life skills, and they know to question and to not be 100 percent trusting. So they need to help monitor and guide their children, anticipating that the goal is that the child gets to a point where they can realize those concepts of safety and ethical behavior.

“One of the three Cs we have for parents,” she adds, “is to keep current. They have to keep checking, keep current, and keep communicating. They need to be aware of the changing technology and the capacity that it has.”

For parents, Leavitt advises, “It really does take those basic concepts of turning the computer on, putting it in a public place, and checking the history.

“Teens like their privacy, and we understand that. So you can explain, ‘I’m not about trying to read your e-mails, but if I provide the computer and pay the electric bill, it’s also my responsibility to make certain that you use it appropriately.’

“You just need to be aware,” Leavitt says. “Young people are going to go to places that you don’t approve. So you talk about it. You say, ‘In our family we just don’t do that, and this is why. And by the way, I will be checking.’

‘Three Cs’ for Parents

  • Keep current with technology.Even
    a little understanding of computers and the Internet goes a long way towards keeping your child safe online. Get basic technical training and learn about new products as they're released.
  • Keep communicating with your children.Talk with them about everything they experience on the Internet. Know their lingo, and ask when you don't understand something.
  • Keep checking your children's Internet activity.Know where they
    go online. Help them understand that the Internet is a public forum and
    never truly private. Let them know
     that you'll keep checking.

Related Resources

HarvardCenteron Media and Child Health

iKeepSafe Digital Citizenship C3 Matrix

Internet Keep Safe Coalition (iKeepSafe)

Threshold: Beyond the Walled Garden

Related Tools & Resources

Internet Safety with Professor Garfield

This site presents a series of online, interactive, animated lessons about internet safety.

e-Parenting Tutorial: Keeping up with your kids' online activities

Online tutorial helps parents learn about their kids’ digital lives.

Beyond Internet Safety: Teaching Kids to be Good Digital Citizens

Learn the results of a recent poll by Harris Interactive and Cable in the Classroom.

Woogi World

An online virtual community where kids learn smart, ethical, behaviors through fun activities.

New Media Literacies

KQED's new media literacies curriculum provides free lesson plans and other resources.