Ninety two percent of teens report going online daily -- including 24 percent who say they go online "almost constantly," according to a new study from Pew Research Center; April, 2015. Today's tween and teens are given a powerful tool that enables them to connect with people, places and things globally with little to no Cyber Citizenship education. A lack of cyber education puts teens and tweens at a greater risk of human trafficking, identity theft and cyber bullying.
I remember sending my first text and opening my first MySpace account. I was 13 years old. Even though the smart phone was not in existence, my world of communication was forever changed. I was also 13 when I experienced the hateful words of a jealous girl who decided that making my life miserable would somehow make her feel better about herself. I haven't mentioned anything about cyber education and how it taught us to use the internet as well as how to stay kind and safe on social media... because there was none.
Fast forward to the summer of 2014. I felt passionate about all Texas middle schools providing education for youth in Cyber Citizenship. Where do I begin such a journey? Well, I love the motto "Go Big or Go Home" so, I requested a meeting with Senator Donna Campbell's staff at the Texas Capital in Austin. This meeting would be the starting point of a year-long journey I will never ever forget.
Opening the email from James Holcomb, who was an intern reporting to Jon Oliver, Communications Director for Senator Donna Campbell was a little scary and very exciting all at the same time. My request for a meeting was granted and now I will have the opportunity to give a presentation on why I feel Cyber Citizenship is crucial for Texas public schools. Walking into the capital was a bit overwhelming. I visited this historic building on a field trip when I was in grade school, and to walk in with such a purpose, I somehow felt a sense of pride and honor to live in the great state of Texas. Mr. Holcomb and Mr. Oliver greeted me with enthusiasm and listening intently to my presentation. They both agreed that educating youth to be safe and productive online was needed and necessary in the school system. They also mentioned with enthusiasm Senator Campbell's passion for youth and the importance of education.
My next stop was the Texas Education Agency's Director, Ms. Shelly Ramos. Even though I knew I had nothing to lose, I was a bit nervous speaking to Ms. Ramos but knew it was crucial for her to hear from a 19-year-old how important this course would be for the lives of youth throughout Texas. I held my breath for what seemed like longer than any human should be able to as I waited for her to respond. She said exactly what I hoped she would say. "This course is needed in our school system and Lauren, I believe you can accomplish the goal of bringing cyber education to our youth." My voice became the spokesperson for every tween and teen throughout the state of Texas. I began to feel the pressure to push forward and make it happen. Ms. Ramos put me in touch with her staff and the next thing I knew, I was on my way to creating a Cyber Citizenship Innovative Course that would educate youth to stay safe and productive online, giving them a foundation and platform to connect safely within a global community as they begin their life journey of reaching their goals and dreams.
I spent the next six months writing and editing this course. The time drew near for executive approval and as I made my last edits I couldn't help but think about my journey and the empowerment that educators will be giving youth as this course is administered. I am proud to say Cyber Citizenship is officially approved by the TEA and will be offered beginning in the 2015-2016 school year for all Texas Middle Schools. This innovative course has the ability to not only keep students safe online, but to also give them an understanding of their digital footprint as they learn to evaluate leadership qualities and the transfer of those qualities from the cyber world to face-to-face interaction. I am extremely proud to have my non-profit organization Girls Above Society connected to educating youth in such a powerful way.
The internet has the potential to connect us with amazing mentors, who will educate us and help us reach our goals and dreams, if we are educated and have the tools needed to use it wisely. Tweens and teens of today are beginning now to shape and mold their future. Why not give them the tools they need for a cyber smart, safe, and healthy tomorrow?