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Be Internet Awesome: YMCAs and Google Team Up to Teach Internet Safety


With the rise of technology and access to endless information online, internet safety for kids is an increasingly common concern in households across the country.

“By far one of the biggest concerns we hear parents talk about these days is how to keep children safe, smart and kind online,” shared Denise Lam, the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the YMCA of Metro Chicago. “Parents are really struggling to know how to make sure our youth are using the internet responsibly and wisely.”

In response to this growing need, YMCAs in 16 cities across the U.S. partnered with Google to deliver “Be Internet Awesome” workshops. These workshops are designed to educate parents on the dangers of irresponsible internet usage, and empower them with tips for communicating safe internet usage to their kids.

“Be Internet Awesome” Tips from Google

Share with care. Remember that you’re also sharing settings, contacts and passwords and credit card information when you share your device with children; everyone has a different comfort level around public sharing.

Don’t fall for fake. Critical thinking is important — devices can’t tell us what’s true and reliable, and what’s not.

Secure your secrets. Learn how to create strong passwords, and always screen lock your devices.

It’s cool to be kind. One effective way kids can respond to social negativity is to call out the behavior rather than the person.

When in doubt, talk it out. Figure out together, as a family, how to report problems on your favorite social media apps. Create a welcoming pathway to discuss questionable online experiences with your children.

The idea isn’t to discourage internet usage altogether, rather to teach responsible habits. “We live in a world where digital services are an inescapable part of our lives, and as parents, we want our kids to be tech-savvy and benefit from all the knowledge, skills and fun they can have from the internet,” said Lam.

A total of 315 coordinated workshops, with bilingual resources available in English and Spanish, were hosted across the country on February 11, which was Safer Internet Day. The workshops focused on Google’s “Internet Code of Awesome”: be smart, alert, strong, kind and brave.

“This really aligns with the YMCA’s priority of keeping kids safe beyond just physical activities, reaching to online activities as well,” said Lam. “And the feedback from the parents has been resoundingly positive.”

While the Be Internet Awesome workshops were hosted in several cities — San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC, Houston, Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Orange County, Silicon Valley, San Antonio, and New York — the partnership between Google and the YMCA was spearheaded by the Metro Chicago Y.

Two years ago, Google’s internet safety curriculum began as a program for schools. After seeing its impact in school districts, Lam and the Metro Chicago Y saw an opportunity to provide a valuable resource for families.

“What we really needed the most is similar tips and advice for our parents, because this is where our parents struggle, and probably where our kids will get into trouble the most,” explained Lam. “So Google took that advice to heart, and came up with the Be Internet Awesome workshops for parents and families.”

After successfully piloting the workshops across its 18 locations in April 2019 — during which 99% of attending parents reported a positive and informative experience, according to Lam — the Metro Chicago YMCA was able to grow the partnership to include YMCA associations in Philadelphia, Silicon Valley, Baltimore, Seattle and the Twin Cities.

From there, Lam and her team were able to expand the partnership to what took place February 11: a total of 315 workshops across 16 cities. And it’s her hope that the partnership will continue to grow.

“We were incredibly proud to partner with Google and host more than 315 free workshops in one day,” shared Lam. “It was a marathon event and took an enormous amount of coordination, but the Chicago Y is proud to have done its part to bring together our sister Ys to join in. It’s been a really great experience, and we hope to do more.”

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former editor of Community Rec Magazine.

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