We talk a lot about learning to code and time spent in front of screens, but what about teaching kids the skills to be able to navigate the risks online? In Singapore, were we are based, an initiative called the DQ Institute launched in March 2017 to help teach digital literacy.
What is it?
DQ is an online tool for teaching kids essential skills for navigating the web. It’s about digital safety and security, recognising that our kids are vulnerable to a whole range of influences while online. We all want our children to be prepared for a digital world, but few of us focus on the negatives of that world and how to prepare for it. Targeted at ages 9-12, DQ provides a solution for parents who want to embrace technology but take steps to ensure their kids are ready.
DQworld was founded by Dr Yuhyun Park, and involves researchers from Stanford University, Iowa State University, the Nanyang institute in Singapore, and Yonsei in Korea (where I studied for a semester on exchange). Their test program ran in Singapore and the initial results indicated that those who went through the missions showed 30% less chances of risky online behaviour than prior to the program.
How does it work?
Children start by taking a self-assessment to help record their current digital competencies. Once this is complete, they are asked to work through 8 core skills over 80 missions. Topics include:
Digital Citizen Identity
The Digital Citizen topic is huge. It comprises 9 sub-themes on its own, including etiquette, literacy, approach, engagement with others, proper use of the Internet, and what to share or not to share. It teaches children to protect their identity, to identify potential threats, and to work around issues that otherwise would ruin the online experience.
Screen Time Management
Limitation and moderation are everything. They make the online experience more enjoyable and teach kids how to connect and disconnect. It teaches kids when it is time to be online and offline and helps to prevent burnout. Apparently they even learn to self-limit screen time which will sound like nirvana to many parents.
Digital Footprint Management
In this topic, children will learn about the permanent nature of digital footprints and the short and long-term potential impacts. It shows kids how to ‘scale back’ on social media, meaning that it teaches kids to control how much of themselves they are willing to put out there. This includes pictures, postings, personal thoughts, blogs, etc. It also helps children to understand that sometimes the celebrities they worship have professionally managed accounts, often separate from their day-to-day lives.
Cyber bullying Management
This topic teaches kids what constitutes cyber bullying, what behaviours are accepted and not accepted, ethical treatment of others, and what to do in the event that one becomes a victim of it. It is mainly a prevention and solution module that comes in handy for parents as well. The comforting thing is that by teaching kids the concept of cyber bullying, you know they have the tools to let you know what’s going on rather than be led down a path without really understanding the impact.
This focuses on understanding how others might feel, both on and offline, and encourages kids to call out bad behaviour to protect their friends. It helps to address situations (or questions) like: Is my child posting mean comments online? Can they tell the difference between whether they should share someone else’s status? Are they able to suppress the need to be in a ‘cool’ online group for the sake of doing what is correct? Importantly, this starts kids thinking about what’s right and what’s wrong, helping them to think about scenarios where the group might be doing the wrong thing so sometimes they might need to go against the trend.
This module teaches kids to evaluate scenarios, consider different characters and information sources. It talks about information that is good and bad, trustworthy or questionable, and gives them a level of awareness to apply while surfing the web. It also helps them consider what might happen if they engage with, download or buy something from a source that might be suspect. Pretty important points for us all.
As you might expect, the privacy management section teaches kids to save passwords, to select passwords that comply with safety rigour such as capital letters, symbols and numbers, and to keep passwords to themselves. Parents need to understand how manipulative (whether innocently or not) children can be to one another. Sometimes sharing private information is considered proof of friendship, so kids can look at things differently to us which is something I wasn’t aware of. The very notion of privacy is touched upon which is also an important thing to learn.
Cyber Security Management
This section teaches kids about online scams, spam and phishing (which is attempting to steal personal contacts through use of pretend emails or websites). This touches again on passwords.
What happens next?
Your children will complete the missions in ‘DQWorld’ which is a super sweet virtual reality world with characters, badges, and even the occasional “ad” which, if the kids click on it, triggers a reminder not to ever click on things like that! It is all part of the teaching!
Once they complete the program, they get two reports, one for parents and one for themselves. They show their strengths and weaknesses, but most importantly, the reports will tell you right off the bat whether your child has a tendency to engage in risky behavior. This is how you start a conversation with your children and allow them to test for themselves the actual behaviors of online citizenship.