Knowing what kids are up to online is a parental pastime and every guardian has their own biggest fear. When I was 11, my dad had a website blocker on the family computer, so if I ever strayed off the beaten path, a picture of his disapproving face would flood the screen.
This was when cell phones didn't have wifi (RIP, LG Rumor) and my seven-year-old cousin wouldn't have been on Facebook. Now, young kids are really plugged in, and parents want to know what's up: a Pew Research Center study found that 33 percent of parents said they have had concerns or questions about their child's technology use in the past 12 months. There's literally no way to keep track of everything that kids do.
Google has proposed an answer: on June 6, it released a kid-focused web program, Be Internet Awesome, to teach young people about online savviness. It includes resources like a webgame, Interland, and a a curriculum for teachers to follow at school.
I've got 20 minutes to spare and an eight-year-old brother who spends most of his waking hours on YouTube watching Minecraft tutorials, so I decided to take a stroll through Interland.
The aesthetics of the game are top-notch: everything is bright, cheery and futuristic, like you've landed on a planet of angular minions. The music gives off a sort of Sims 3 vibe, and here's my personal favourite part: the wretched characters trying to hack you or get you to spill secrets look like little devils.
The game has four different "worlds" where you encounter different threats, and each world offers a different type of game to play. The world where you're tasked with creating a secure password is Temple Run-esque, and the game that teaches you to be kind online and report bullies is reminiscent of Fancy Pants Adventure.
"We think the five core principles of Be Internet Awesome are principles that people of any age can get behind," wrote program lead Julianne Yi in an email. "The lessons are particularly relevant for kids around the ages of 8-11." According to her, "studies indicate that's when they're starting to get their own devices and forming online habits."
Yi wrote that the program release coincides with kids getting out of school and having more time to spend online. And it's Internet Safety Month.
The game teaches the basics of how to keep yourself safe online: report cyberbullies, create a password with upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols, and how to use your privacy settings on social media.
It's definitely fun to play, but it also crashed my computer twice. (It's an in-browser game and I was using Chrome to play. To be fair, I tried it again the next day on my editor's laptop and it worked fine.)
Google partnered with a few different companies to bring this program to fruition. One was iKeepSafe, an internet safety coalition. President and CEO Holly Hawkins weighed in on why it's important for Google, specifically, to release this program.
"Google understands how embedded technology is in the lives of young people and the importance of reaching them at a young age and in an engaging manner," wrote Hawkins in an email. "The unique content coupled with the incredible reach of Google will help make this impactful."
The game is adorable and informative, but I think my brother would literally roll his eyes right out of his head if I made him sign the Be Internet Awesome Pledge, which is a non-binding contract between a kid and their family members saying that they'll "stay smart, alert, strong, kind and brave online." But then again, he's a game snob and just one kid.
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