May 1, 2024

Teaching Kids Digital Citizenship Transcript

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Cindy Lopez: Welcome. My name is Cindy Lopez, the host of this CHC podcast, Voices of Compassion. We hope you find a little courage, feel connected and experience compassion every time you listen. As technology continues to permeate almost all aspects of our lives, understanding how to navigate the digital world responsibly becomes critical, especially for our youth. In this episode, we talk with Eisha Buch, Director of Education Programs and Development for Common Sense Media, about helping students develop a sense of digital agency so that they can truly thrive in a tech-filled world with all its benefits, as well as navigate the potential stressors. We discuss practical strategies that parents can use at home to support responsible use of technology and foster a culture of digital citizenship.

So, welcome Eisha. We’re so glad that you are able to join us today to talk about this topic of digital citizenship. Why don’t you take a minute to tell us a little bit more about yourself and your connection to the topic.

Eisha Buch: Thank you for having me, Cindy. So my name is Eisha Buch, and I’m the head of education programs at Common Sense, and I lead a free K-12 digital citizenship curriculum for schools. It’s a curriculum that’s in over 85,000 schools across the country, and my work is really focused on supporting young people’s relationship with technology and helping them think critically about all of the opportunities and the challenges that it can pose for their well being, for social connections and for their civic lives.

Cindy Lopez: So, thinking about teaching kids to use technology in a meaningful way, and that your work is focused on this it’s just amazing because our students, our children, kids are so connected to technology, whether it’s on their phone or laptop or whatever. And the access to information and each other is just amazing. So, this topic of digital citizenship and learning to use technology in a meaningful way is really important. As you think about digital citizenship, why do you think it’s important?

Eisha Buch: Our world, our tech filled world is constantly evolving. And the ways that tech is impacting our lives, our relationships, the way we learn, our social emotional well-being and everything in between is evolving too. And I used to be a middle school and high school teacher. And that was over a decade ago when frankly, the tech scene was very, very different than it is now. What has been so important and like kind of the background that I bring to this is really being able to lean into what the research says, addressing what the teens and students and young people’s pain points are, and helping promote digital literacy, social-emotional learning, and ultimately having young people feel like they can be agents of change and have digital agency over their tech experience, so that they are to your point using it in responsible ways and making those healthy choices. And so the way we define digital citizenship here at Common Sense is really being rooted in giving young people the set of skills and the dispositions that they need to think critically, to make those healthy choices and participate responsibly in a world that is filled with tech.

Cindy Lopez: Yeah, and you mentioned social and emotional well-being. My background is in education as well, and it’s interesting to think about using technology around social emotional well-being because it seems so impersonal, right, in some ways. But our students are using technology in a way that’s very personal now, that is connecting them socially and emotionally to others, and I’m wondering, we’ve heard so much about AI, artificial intelligence. How does that impact what we’re talking about today?

Eisha Buch: AI is an interesting one. I really like to focus on the fact that it’s a technology, not so much a way of interacting, but it’s a technology that is layered upon a lot of the things that we have been doing. And for example, social media feeds are driven by recommendation algorithms. So all of the things that we see in our feed are driven by algorithms, which is AI. And I hope people feel a little bit of a sense of ease, like, that is not new, that has been something that we have been experiencing actually for a long time. Facial recognition, unlocking our phone, that is also driven by AI.

So we like to really first, I think, have people make sense of what AI is. It is complicated. There’s a lot of nuance to just understanding the basics of it. So like, first, how can we understand what it is, and then how can we think critically about the impacts? Because there are amazing things that AI is able to unlock for us, from creativity, to being able to express ourselves, to being more efficient with what we do, and then there are very real impacts on our well-being, on the way in which we can process the information that we’re seeing–is it real, is it not? And so we want young people to think critically about it, and I actually think there are some really relevant social and emotional well-being related implications to AI. And so one of the things that we’re actually exploring and want young people to experience is, let’s say you take an AI chat bot, for example, like they are designed in ways to sound like humans, right? And so they design them to kind of have this like, “Hi, how are you? Or they’ll say, like, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that.” When really, you know, they don’t have that particular empathy, and they don’t actually understand the feelings that you’re experiencing. And so we want them to think about, well, what are the implications of that? Like, what might that do in the way that I’m kind of putting my trust into this particular experience that I’m having? How does it potentially impact my expectations of friendships that I have in real life? If I, you know, want things to be said a certain way, I want to hear things a certain way. And so we do feel like there’s a lot to just make sense of and that there are a lot of social emotional well-being related impacts we want them to be able to grapple with.

Cindy Lopez: AI is so interesting too. And I’m glad you brought up that, like, we’ve actually been using AI with our devices for a number of years, but I think the compelling part of AI for me is it feels personal, right? It can be very situational, say a scenario, like a specific scenario to you or, kind of, you know, what’s happening in your classroom and then the AI will come back with some ideas about how you might respond. And I think that piece of AI – where you can actually say what it is that you’re doing and what you’re dealing with, you don’t have to generalize it so much. And I think it’s an interesting aspect of AI, and I think that the more that our students use AI–it’ll just be interesting to see the changes especially in education because of that.

Eisha Buch: Mm hmm. Yeah, absolutely.

Cindy Lopez: And I know at Common Sense Media, as you noted, in your role as head of education programs, you’re working on this curriculum. So I know you’ve developed digital citizenship curriculum for schools and educators. Why is that? Why is Common Sense Media prioritizing that?

Eisha Buch: Great question because I think a lot of people know Common Sense for something else, like if you’re a parent or a caregiver you might know of Common Sense as helping with what type of media young people should be using. So it’s like an age rating and it kind of helps give you a better sense of like, “Hey, is this movie going to be appropriate for us to watch tonight?” And so more broadly, Common Sense is a nonprofit organization that’s dedicated to improving the lives of all kids and families, and the way in which we do that is by providing trustworthy information, education and the independent voice that they need to thrive in this day and age. And so the education side of what we do is really helping prepare young people again to be responsible and make the most positive and meaningful use of tech in their lives. And we believe so strongly that schools are such an important channel for that. And it’s not the only way in which we want to help young people thrive in a tech-filled world, but it’s a very powerful one and one in which we believe teachers have a lot of potential and schools do in helping impact it, but we do believe really strongly in what we call the whole community approach. And so we want to make sure that teachers, first and foremost, feel confident in being able to teach these types of lessons and skills to students. We want them to feel like they are good and strong and super digital citizens in their own right, that they can then have the lessons to teach students directly, and that they also have the resources to help make the connection for families and caregivers because we know that it’s when you have all of those pieces working together is when you can really help support children in this.

Cindy Lopez: As an educator our students can often be, kind of, light years ahead of us in terms of technology use. And so I can imagine as an educator it’s a little daunting to think about how am I going to teach these kids, for example about digital citizenship, because I’m still learning, and they’re probably further along than I am. And I wonder too, schools are, as you noted, such an important avenue to reach kids. Also schools can be a source of stress for kids, right, whether it’s academic stress or social stress or whatever, as well as a protective factor, especially when we think about a student’s mental health.

So I’m thinking about like tweens and teens, you know, they’re some of our biggest consumers of media, what does that look like for them? What does it look like for younger children? And especially because we’re CHC, we’re always interested in the mental health of students.

Eisha Buch: The piece that I really am trying to embody and I want schools to embody is that there used to be a time where there was this distinction of life in the real world and life online. And I think that distinction has just gone away at this point. And really, most importantly for young people. They grew up with the iPads you know, at the restaurant or wherever they were, they grew up with technology front and center of their lives and of their parents’ lives, and so there is no distinction in their life between online life and life without tech. And so when we think about something like well-being, it’s really important that we don’t have to think of it in simply terms of how are we helping safeguard your well-being online? We just want to think of it really in terms of how are we safeguarding your well-being and how are we supporting your well-being? And what are the ways in which media and tech are potentially helping your well-being or are potentially harming it? And so we really want to approach it in that way.

And I think there are reasons to believe and that we’ve seen when talking to young people that there’s so much good out of social media and being able to find community and sense of belonging, to be able to explore different interests and things that they would not have been able to have access to. So we want to lean into that and help young people really foster the good that does exist. And we have also heard about the circumstances of feelings of anxiety or depression or seeing harmful content that is actually perpetuating disturbing or you know, negative thoughts. We also see that social media can promote a sense of social comparison and that, you know, can be negative on one’s sense of well-being. And so what we’ve really tried to do – and we most recently partnered with Harvard’s Project Zero and the Center for Digital Thriving to develop a set of lessons that are rooted in evidence based interventions of cognitive behavioral therapy that can be applied in classroom settings, in a classroom friendly way, that help give young people strategies and tips for helping support their digital well-being. And frankly, I think they’re also relevant to all of us as adults, but it’s a powerful way for us to bring that content to life for young people.

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Cindy Lopez: So, as you think about our youth, are there different concerns or different considerations for different ages of kids as you are thinking about this aspect of digital citizenship, well-being, any of that?

Eisha Buch: I do. I think there’s a few pieces that we want to take into consideration. One is just that developmentally, what’s happening is shifting a lot from kindergarten through high school. And so that’s a piece that we really want to keep in mind in terms of like, what can they process at this particular point in time? And what are they doing on devices? And so, what’s happening at K to 2, and I will say in the last five years, like there has been a much more use of tech within the grades K to 2 than there was before, but they are on devices. They’re typically on a device that’s owned, you know, by an adult, a parent or a caregiver. And there isn’t as much independence of what they’re doing. It’s usually an approved app or game or show that they’re watching, but even in those circumstances, we want them to understand the concept of safety. And we want them to understand the concept of you know, privacy and well-being. So how does it feel when you’ve been watching video after video after video, like, do your eyes feel tired? And so it’s like a version of thinking about well-being, but in a more, you know, elementary way. And as they grow older, we see that like within upper elementary and middle school, tech use is becoming more prevalent, that they’re doing more independent activities on a device, right, so whether it is for assignments for school, researching something, communicating now with friends, like the use of tech has become more sophisticated, and with that comes a whole new set of safety implications, relationship and communication related things and skills we want them to learn, well-being. So, how does it feel when you’re doing X, like what are the things that you love doing? What brings you joy? What are the pieces of your tech experiences that are making you not feel so great? And then we want to build upon in a developmentally appropriate way, how they can develop healthy habits related to their tech use and how they can just be reflective of their experiences, because those habits continue to change, the things we care about, the things we do, continue to change. How can we develop the dispositions to think about our tech use, think about how it’s making us feel, and then make shifts based on those differences, and also be okay readjusting those habits. If we weren’t successful with this one habit we wanted to change, like, how can we come back to it and try something new? And that it doesn’t have to feel so high stakes in the way that we do that.

Cindy Lopez: Yeah, it sounds like it’s basically another aspect of being mindful, no matter what age you are, right? As a young child, you just said like, what does it feel like? Are you tired? Do you have less energy? Do you have more energy? And I think for tweens and teens too thinking about, well, how did that feel after you had that interaction online? You know, did it make you laugh? Did it bring joy, or did it stress you out? So even more and more, I think we’re asking students to be more mindful and more self-aware and that does take some kind of direct teaching because it’s not something that necessarily comes naturally.

As we think about this topic of digital citizenship, what do you think are the most important components of learning for students around that topic of digital citizenship, well-being, online, all of that?

Eisha Buch: I think the key, like, is that there’s impact on pretty much all aspects of our lives, again, because it is so infiltrated into everything we do, it’s hard to really think of it in one particular way. What I really hope we can help young people really foster are what we call like a set of dispositions. And so we call this idea a red flag feeling. Let’s say there’s something you experience that’s making you feel not so great. It could be that I’m staying up really late when I should be sleeping. I’m mindlessly scrolling, and like, I’m super late in the morning to school because I didn’t sleep. It could be that I watched some harmful content and now I feel really bad about myself. It could be a whole set of things. Any of those capacities, the idea of like, when something feels not good, you have this red flag feeling. What should you do? And we want students to really think through what their options are. So first we want them to slow down and self-reflect in any of those moments in time. We want them to be able to explore perspectives, like what are the options that I have at this moment? Based on those, is there anything else I need to be addressing or seeking more facts or more evidence? And then ultimately how can I take action? And so depending on whether it’s a relational problem they’re having, or maybe it’s civic-related in their civic lives, being able to kind of ask themselves these questions and really think through when I’m feeling a certain way, that something doesn’t feel right, I have a series of steps or a series of questions I can ask myself to get unstuck from the situation is, I think, ultimately like our end goal because it’s helping them not really deal with the very specific website or tool or social media platform, but it’s just the skills and dispositions to really navigate any and all of their experiences with tech, which is what I would ultimately hope for.

Cindy Lopez: So when you talk about those dispositions, and then the kind of questions that they ask themselves in response to that, can you give an example of some of those questions? And are those things that you teach in the curriculum that you have online?

Eisha Buch: Yeah, great question. So there’s basically two different types of we would call them dilemmas and a core component of the curriculum are these what we call digital life dilemmas and their scenarios, and it’s really like grappling with something that is happening in the online space where there is no clear right or wrong answer, and that you really have to use that critical thinking to really navigate what the right solution might be and so when it comes to something like a civics related dilemma, it might be that, you know, we have an example in high school where it’s a friend is believing in conspiracy theories and is posting about it in a group, and you are the friend, but you’re also a moderator in the online space. And so what do you do? Like, you want to preserve your friendship, but you also know that this is misinformation and the guidelines in this group are that you need to remove it. And so it’s more around this question of like, okay, again, let me slow down and self-reflect, like simply restating, what the dilemma is that they’re experiencing and then being able to explore all the perspectives. So what is the perspective that my friend is holding? What is the perspective that I’m holding? What’s the perspective of people within the group who might be seeing this content or the people who created the guidelines to begin with? And then thinking about, the next piece is, what facts and evidence do I have to support my thinking? And so that might mean corroborating, like, is this piece of information that is being shared true, or is it not? And how can I potentially find out what the answer is to that? Then they envision their options, and so like, what options do I have? I could leave it up. That’s going to help me preserve my friendship and not have any sort of tension or drama. I could take it down. Then thinking about what’s going to happen due to that. And so envisioning what those options are and ultimately like boiling it down to then taking that action of like doing the thing, feeling that sense of agency, like getting yourself out of the I’m helpless, I don’t know what to do, and like taking some sort of action is really like, one example of a dilemma. The other types of dilemmas we have are more relational. So it could be that you posted something online and someone else, you know, is feeling really bad about it because they happened to be in that video and now they’re being made fun of. What do you do? And in those types of dilemmas, we want to really kind of foster the empathy piece and really, again, it’s really leaning into like, clearly articulating who are all of the people impacted by this scenario. It’s the person who was in my video that I posted. It’s me. It’s my friends. It’s the people who are, you know, following me on my social media account. And then thinking about, okay, how is everyone feeling in this situation? How does everybody feel? And like listing that out, exploring what their perspective might be on this. And then again, ultimately through the series of questioning, like, what is the action you can take? What is the way in which you can make it right with your friend? What’s the way you can make it right by what you’ve posted? So, ultimately, the curriculum, it really is a simplified version in elementary school of these scenarios. And then we go through, with middle school and high school, what we call thinking routines. And they are a set of specific questions that we want young people to, like, think through and answer around these digital life dilemmas that really is ultimately fostering those core dispositions.

Cindy Lopez: So as you work with schools and teachers who are implementing your curriculum are you hearing stories from teachers from educators that students are receptive in their learning? So, part of the reason I bring it up is because a lot of my education and career in education over the last 20 years has been really working with kids with more learning challenges. And sometimes it’s harder for them to do that kind of thinking. They’re not always aware of how they’re coming across. It’s hard to read the room, so to speak. Do you find that the use of the curriculum and students; response to it has been pretty positive and successful?

Eisha Buch: Yes. Yes. And I, I don’t want to just say yes. So I should say that the curriculum has been around for more than a decade. And it was developed in partnership with Harvard Graduate School of Education, and I think making it be grounded in research has been so essential to the development of the curriculum. And that is something that we have wanted to continue doing throughout the new iterations and updates that we’ve continued to make. We always pilot the lessons every time we put out new content; we really think it’s important to pilot them across the country in all different types of schools. I will say, to your point, really around students either with special needs or just thinking about certain populations. I do think that yes, there has been a resounding, “This is so important.” And in fact, when we think about certain topic areas within the curriculum, privacy and safety is such a critical one that we’ve actually received just a lot of feedback on like, this is so important for us to be able to teach our students because they are using this technology and it is like kind of opening them up to a world that has no guardrails, so to speak. And so I think depending on the use of technology, certain topic areas might be more relevant or resonate more. The topics that we kind of covered, I’m not sure if I ever mentioned this, but six key topics within the curriculum. There’s media balance and well-being; and there’s privacy and safety; there’s relationships and communication; there’s digital footprint and identity; then there’s digital drama, cyberbullying and hate speech; and then the last topic is news and media literacy.

Cindy Lopez: So shifting a little bit, thinking about some of the ethical and moral questions that inevitably arise as kids use media, and you’ve talked a little bit about it, you alluded to it. So like what ethical dilemmas do kids face in their use of digital media and technology? And how is that handled?

Eisha Buch: The hottest topic now with schools especially is the use of AI and ethical use when it comes to classwork and schoolwork and academic integrity, and that’s a tricky one. It’s tricky because we want to get past that being the problem, but it is I think a pain point that young people are experiencing and that schools are experiencing because there’s no real clear, like, talk about digital dilemmas, I think this is like an example of one where there is no clear right or wrong. It’s like there’s a spectrum of how we’re using sources. How are we citing the sources? A lot of people have been given guidance that they should cite the sources of like a chat GPT, but really these generative AI tools can’t cite their sources. And so, you know, it’ll make up an artificial website and that’s then what they’re citing. And so they’re learning the skills and they’re asking the right question, right, which is what we ultimately want. We want them to be thinking critically and asking the right question. And yet they’re not able to get that question answered correctly, right? And they don’t know what to trust.

And so I think it’s tricky, and that’s an example to me of one where we need to rethink, right, there’s the side of this which is, you know, what is the assignment and how can we help promote the question-asking element of students and show their thinking and really like, lean into that. How do we also like accept the fact that AI is here and not, you know, say that we’re going to ban it fully, but have some sort of plan around that? And then I think it’s the teaching of like how these things work so that we’re able to use it in ways that make sense and that are accurate and not use it in the ways that, you know, it can’t work for us.

Cindy Lopez: So Eisha, I’m thinking about our listeners who are probably a lot of parents and some educators, and we’ve talked a little bit about the classroom. What about home? What specific strategies can you share with our listeners that they might be able to use at home with their kids?

Eisha Buch: One is modeling, so how can we, as parents and caregivers, model proper, responsible, pro-social use of tech? And so, kids are sponges and they see us and they see when we’re on our phone, when they’re trying to explain something to us. I am totally guilty of this myself with my two little ones, but how can we make sure that we are setting a good example and that when we make mistakes, like, we are open about it, and we don’t hide it, and we’re like, oh my gosh, yes, I made a mistake, like, Mom should put her phone away right now, you’re right, or just having that level of honesty, I think is huge. And it opens doors for communication, and for a sense of, yes, we all can make mistakes. We are here and we’re in it together. This is something that we’re all dealing with and we can all work on it and kind of come up with a plan together. So like, I think the modeling piece is key, and then I think just, finding ways to connect around tech.

So, it typically is the case that like parents are telling kids to get off your phone and you’re spending too much time on it and all of the things that we know, whether we say it or not, is probably what we’re feeling. But being able to find the moments where like, you’re watching a really funny YouTube video together. Just that two minutes of shared co-viewing where it’s like you can have a joyful moment around it, again, is helping build that connection and that trust that then goes a very long way when it comes to them potentially being in a situation where they feel like they’re struggling and they need some help.

Cindy Lopez: Yeah, thinking about some of the episodes that we’ve done around teen mental health specifically and talking to teens, like two things that keep coming up with our experts is: be curious as a parent, like, be curious, not suspect.

Eisha Buch: Mm hmm.

Cindy Lopez: But, you know, authentically, genuinely curious, like, oh, I’m interested, like, you know, what was that that you’re watching you were laughing at it or whatever.

Eisha Buch: Totally. I quote it as being Ted Lasso. I know it’s not a Ted Lasso quote. It’s probably, I think, Walt Whitman, but that be curious, not judgmental, like I think you’re, yeah, spot on.

Cindy Lopez: Yeah. Yeah. And then the other one is listen. Just, you know, try to listen more than you talk. And I think for parents, it’s hard because you can see kind of what’s ahead for them and you just want to prepare them and you want them to be as successful as they can be and as happy as they can be. So you know, you kind of want to step in there and talk and tell them what to do, but be curious and listen. 

Eisha Buch: I love that.

Cindy Lopez: So Eisha, thank you so much for spending some time with us today to talk about this topic. And it’s so important and the resources at Common Sense Media are so important. So we will definitely list those resources in our show notes and on our web pages. Eisha, I’m just wondering what final thoughts or what advice would you like to leave with our listeners?

Eisha Buch: Ooh. It’s funny you say that because I wanted it to be curious not judgmental. I just, I so believe it. It made me so happy when you said that. 

I have been personally just doing this in our family, but it is just like, I would say find the simple, like two minute positive tech moment. Just find that moment, whether it’s once a day or once in a week with the family, you know, find that moment that you feel like is giving you the win because if you are in a household where you feel like tech is otherwise taking over in some way, just leaning into the moment of good or the moment of positive. It just helps a lot and goes a long way and in really helping preserve that mindset and that you’re in it together with your family.

Cindy Lopez: Thank you so much. Thank you, Eisha. Thank you to our listeners. And to our listeners, you know, if you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, or you need some support please reach out at You can email our care team, You can also call at 650-688-3625. And, Common Sense Media has great resources. We’ll list those in the show notes and the webpages as well. So thank you for joining us today.

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