Resources and discussion for parents, teachers and young people navigating the evolving landscape of the digital world.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Screenagers: Coming May 18th to CWA!

How wonderful when a confluence of events leads to an educational opportunity!

Let me explain.

As you know, Sam, Emily, and I have done an annual parent workshop for Charles Wright Academy families for several years now. This past January, our audience was bigger than ever, and we ran overtime by at least an hour as people lingered to ask more questions and talk to each other. Emily wrote a brilliant blog post in the aftermath of our evening when she realized, and beautifully put into words, what we were all needing that evening. To not feel so alone in our parenting decisions. The feeling of community was palpable, as we finally closed the doors at 8:45 for an event scheduled to end at 7:30.

One of the last suggestions made by a member of our audience asked us to do another workshop, but one where they could bring their kids with them, to hear the same message, and to begin the work as a family of crafting guidelines and rules for technology use that everyone could live with. Backed up by research, of course.  :)

So that's PART ONE. Genius suggestion. Why hadn't we thought of it before?

PART TWO, in the next couple of weeks my email inbox and my Facebook messages blew up with links to the new documentary Screenagers. Had I heard of it? Did I know anything about it? Was there any way we could bring it to CWA to screen it? "I saw this and thought of you" type stuff. It had just debuted in February and was getting a lot of buzz online. So I checked into it...could we do this? What was it going to take? Navigating the school calendar is almost a labyrinth from which there is no escape. I know, because I built our current system, so I can see ALL THE CALENDARS! Not many openings in the spring time around here...we get BUSY.

But one date was already on the calendar, May 18th. PART THREE! Sam and I were slated to be guest speakers at the Pierce County CHADD meeting hosted on our campus by my wonderful colleague and gifted learning specialist, Mary Beth Cole. Would we come and talk to the CHADD group about technology and ADHD? Of course! Emily was slated as the guest speaker in March, and we would take the May meeting. Bimonthly doses of the three of us, as it were. I pitched my idea of combining the CHADD meeting with the film screening, and Mary graciously accepted our offer. So I got serious about securing the rights to show the film.

Enter PART FOUR, our admissions and marketing team. Our first workshop was open to the public, this event would be too. Our school has a strong commitment to providing resources to and activities for the South Puget Sound region, in addition to our own families. In the list of available screenings thus far, the next closest location to view the film was in Olympia. If we did it here, we could garner a broad audience from many local neighborhoods and school districts. Excellent!

The icing on the cake? Our incredible Parent AssociationPART FIVE. Kathy Hinz, the current Steering Committee chair of the PA, had already heard the buzz and she had simultaneously been in contact with the Screenagers folks about getting the film here. She had already heard back from them and the Parent Association was totally on board to sponsor the film for us! How did I get so lucky?

So it's on! 

I've been working on a piece for our school blog, which I'm sharing parts of here, so you can see how everything has conspired to bring us all together one more time this year. I sure don't feel so alone right now. RSVPs stand at 200 and counting...Thanks to all for helping make it happen!

Official CHADD/technology connection, though this is an event for everyone:

The intersection of technology and attention disorders is quite complicated, especially if you have read recent headlines like Is the Internet Giving Us All ADHD? (Washington Post, March 2015) juxtaposed with other offerings claiming Technology Makes ADHD Better, Not Worse (Forbes, June 2015). How are we to make sense of all this? In our current digital age, we use technology to learn, communicate, organize, create, and be entertained. Our growing use of, and dependence on, these devices has teachers, researchers, and doctors asking questions about the impact of all this connectedness not only on our ability to focus and pay attention to tasks, but on our health and well-being in general. Within the last year, the phrase adult onset ADHD has actually become a thing (even though it’s NOT really a thing), as we all struggle to understand why we are so easily drawn to, and distracted by, our smart phones. Think “SQUIRREL!” from the movie “Up.”

Well, to link the distracting nature of technology directly to ADHD is a bit disingenuous. As author Caitlin Dewey points out in her piece for the Post, “The Web certainly may cause ADHD-like symptoms, and it could exacerbate the disorder in children and adults who suffer from it already … but there’s no evidence that Internet use could actually cause an otherwise healthy person to develop the disorder. After all, ADHD is believed to have a range of underlying genetic causes, things you couldn’t just ‘catch’ from a computer screen.” What many are actually alluding to when they discuss such distractibility is not ADHD, but multitasking, which years of brain research now shows to be an impossibility. No matter how good we think we are at multitasking, what we are actually doing is task-switching. Perhaps we don’t notice because we do it so rapidly, but each and every time our brain has to make the switch between tasks, however small, it takes a toll on our productivity. We are drawn to the beep, buzz, alert, or notification that forces the change in focus, and we lose track of where we are because we haven't actually seen a single task through to the end. Hence we can feel like we are doing a lot of things but accomplishing nothing at the same time. Sound familiar?

As for the realities of ADHD and technology, parents are often baffled that their child can’t sit still long enough to read a book or complete a project, but put them in front a videogame and they can play for hours. There are multiple factors at work here. Dr. Dimitri Christakis, professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and the director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Children's Hospital in Seattle, urges us to think about ADHD differently than we currently do, not in terms of who can and cannot pay attention, but as a spectrum of “attentional capacity.” All of us exist somewhere on this continuum, and finding out what works for each of us is critical. The ADHD brain works differently. As Dr. Dale Archer puts it, “The chaotic effect of competing sources of information that can distract and derail others is like manna to an ADHDer, for whom these extreme states actually boost a feel-good response in the brain. It’s why many with ADHD appear so focused and functional in the middle of a maelstrom.” That super-focused videogame player? The stimuli of the game, and the rapid nature of your choices leading to immediate rewards, is exactly what an ADHD brain craves, he says. So in this case, the child’s attentional capacity for the game is greater than it might be for other activities that do not offer similar rewards. Who wouldn’t choose the game in those circumstances?

There is still cause for concern, however, in that too much time/attention devoted to a certain task can be a problem. Discussing the common misconception that people with ADHD simply cannot pay attention, Dr. Ned Hallowell, one of the country’s leading experts on ADHD, puts it this way: “People with ADHD can super-focus at times and pay better attention than anyone. When what they are doing interests them they often go into a state of hyper-focus, such that they lose track of the passage of time or their biological needs and drives. It is when they are not interested that their minds wander. But their minds do not go empty, which is why attention deficit is such a misnomer. In ADHD attention wanders, but it never disappears.”

So how does a family manage their use of technology and screen time, whether ADHD is present in the home or not? For all of us to maximize our attentional capacity, we need to critically look at how we are spending our time and seek the right balance. For the parent who feels like Snapchat and Instagram have “stolen” their child from them, this means some pretty critical thinking needs to occur about how, when, and why your child has access to social media. Add adolescence and hormones to the mix and we really have a lot to learn!

We invite you to join us at Charles Wright Academy on May 18 at 6:30pm in the Middle School Commons for a FREE screening of the documentary Screenagers. Sponsored by our Parent Association, and supported by our local chapter of CHADD, this film offers us a chance to get together and discuss reasonable family guidelines and limits as we examine the impact of technology on our lives. We encourage you to bring your tween/teen(s) with you to watch the film! (10+) Technology coordinator Holly Gerla, middle school librarian Sam Harris, and parent coach Emily McMason, who hosted January’s Raising Kids in the Digital World workshop, will lead the post-film discussion. We look forward to seeing you!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Washington Elementary PTA Meeting

Thanks to the Washington Elementary PTA for inviting us to speak at your meeting last night! Embedded below is our side presentation, and lots of other links. Please let us know if there are further resources we can help you find!

Here's just one to get you started...a very popular question asked last night. What's the right age to get my kid a cell phone? As we discussed, each kid and each family's guidelines are different, but use your village to get feedback! More important than their age is their maturity level, and whether or not you think they can handle the responsibility.

Emily McMason - evolving parents

Common Sense Media - Facebook

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Big Three: Cyberbullying, Sexting, and Porn with Jo Langford of

Jo's latest book.
Girl version coming May 2016!
Last night I traveled to Vashon Island to hear Jo Langford, MA, a sex educator and Seattle therapist, speak. I've been following Jo's work ever since I heard Amy Lang (of Birds + Bees + Kids) speak at our school two years ago. If you've read our blog before, you know we have spent a fair amount of time discussing issues of gender identity, stereotypes, and roles, particularly as these things play out online. Jo has been my go to resource for information about boys since I bought his book, The Sex EdCyclopedia: A Comprehensive Guide to Healthy Sexuality, For the Modern, Male Teen, at Amy's workshop. He has since written another book, Spare Me the Talk! A Guy's Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Growing Up, that is brilliant, and I am waiting patiently for the girl version to come out in May so I can have one more resource in my home that is practical and helpful for my kids.  In the meantime, I leave his books lying around for my daughters to read, in the hopes their curiosity will prompt them to learn more about the opposite gender, and hopefully something about themselves in the process. In addition to his published work, Jo has a collection of resources available on his website that include detailed and lengthy templates for "contracts" that he recommends for families as they work to establish boundaries, rules, and guidelines for technology use. These range from getting your first smart phone, to managing online gaming, substance abuse, and sexual activity.

Jo's style is direct, engaging, and unflinchingly honest. For example, as we listened to him talk about sexting, he stated quite simply, "It's only sexting when all parties involved are over 18." Otherwise? In the state of Washington it's child pornography. Plain and simple. Furthermore, as he addressed the behavior behind nude selfies and the exchange of images (sometimes just of body parts) he made three points.
1. Sending "dick pics" is a revolting way to flirt.
2. Sexting feeds into an already negative, pornified media cycle.
3. It's a felony.
Can't get much clearer than that. And that's just one example of Jo's straight talk. He's awesome.

When we talk about sexting in my classes,  I address with students not only the legal consequences of such behavior (during Technology and the Law week), but it resurfaces when discussing the impact of technology on our health, both physical and emotional. Sexting is a complicated topic for adolescents, but the simple truth is that, at least where we live, it is illegal, and the penalties are harsh because it falls under the label of child pornography. Some states have written laws specific to sexting to remove it from felony status, particularly if it is consensual (see New Mexico). If you are wondering how to talk about it with your child, you can bring it up in the context of a story from the news, or you can read more in depth the work of Dr. Elizabeth Englander, who has conducted some extensive studies on this growing phenomenon. In terms of harm, Dr. Englander says that what should be of greatest concern to us is coerced sexting. "Overall, about two-thirds of the teens in my research studies report that they were pressured or coerced into sexting at least some of the time," she says. And the consequences for those who did it under pressure were more significant than for those who engaged in the activity willingly.

But back to Jo! The bulk of the presentation was about social media, and a run down of the current popular apps among teens, which I have linked below to their reviews on Common Sense Media. Jo categorizes them as "good, bad, and ugly" based on the following criteria:
GOOD - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. These are good apps for kids to "cut their teeth" in social media, so to speak. Their online persona should look a lot like their real life persona. Likened to a "dinner party," in these apps kids can look around and figure out the rules and how to behave (don't throw food, don't shout at each other, be polite). But as with all apps/services, kids should know that what they post lasts a loooooong time and is not necessarily private. Furthermore, kids should be "social networking" in the real world, too, not just behind a screen all the time.

BAD - Snapchat, Burn Note, Calculator%, Line. These apps are in the bad category because they have the potential to dismantle self-esteem and put kids at risk for humiliation, bullying, and legal issues. Snapchat, which has recently overtaken Twitter as the third most popular app (behind Facebook and Instagram), is widely used among the teen population. While it's fun and entertaining, and to many seemingly harmless, Jo says it perpetuates a false sense of security. Promising that messages "disappear" after a set amount of time, Snapchat lulls kids into thinking there are no consequences to sharing whatever they might choose to Snap. In fact, you lose control over all content once you send it. He told us that 8 of his last 10 clients have ended up in his office in trouble because of Snapchat. How are people supposed to behave in these apps? It's not entirely clear based on your own use of and interaction with the app, and this can prove confusing to kids. You may have recently heard about the Calculator% app, or another called Photo Vault, in conjunction with a "sexting scandal" in Canon City, Colorado. The app allows you to effectively hide explicit photos behind an icon that innocently looks like a calculator. Jo's point about this was, "if you are using this app to hide what you are doing, you aren't using the Internet like a grown up."

UGLY - Kik, Meet Me,, Omegle, Yik Yak, Burn Book, After School. Apps in this category can encourage kids to mask their identity, promote cruel behavior, encourage kids to lie, break the law, or make it easy to be located by people they don't know. We encourage you to read the reviews and dig a bit deeper into these apps so you can determine your own comfort level. One of Jo's comments that particularly resonated with me as a consumer and a parent was this: "Using those apps gives your time, energy, and money to developers who encourage irresponsible behavior, who take take advantage of stupid people, and who support the predators who prey on them." As an educator, I have taken the time to actually install and experiment with a few of them, and I can honestly say, EWWWWW. Definitely a lot of potential for harm and hurt feelings, at the very least. Sometimes, the danger is much greater. Like Calculator% above, Kik has recently been in the headlines after the murder of a 13 year old girl, who was using the app to communicate with her 18 year old "boyfriend," a suspect in her death.
Obviously an app isn't solely to blame for behavior, and anything can be used for good or bad, but for adolescents who do not have their adult brain yet, the dangers and drawbacks of anonymity, location services, and oversharing are not immediately obvious. Connecting with strangers online can feel exhilarating and grown up. Imagine the cool things you may learn--and can then tell your friends. Even for a "good" app like Instagram, teens may be very careful about what they share as part of their digital footprint, but if they choose to follow a variety of accounts that exploit, stereotype, and insult all in the name of humor (no shortage of those), I believe there is a cumulative impact of looking at all that negativity on a constant basis. Certain behaviors get "normalized" to the point where kids stop questioning the morality of the content and perhaps even their own choices.

So here are just a few other tidbits from Jo I jotted in my notes because they were new to me, or new ways of thinking about familiar issues:

CYBERBULLYING. As far as cyberbullying goes, kids need to know that it happens. Somebody is going to be a jerk online...and this can even happen accidentally sometimes. Jokes aren't funny to everyone all the time, and lines are easily crossed. When it happens to you, don't reciprocate, don't stay silent, and block or report the behavior. To prepare for the online jerks of the world, learn how to give constructive criticism and show others how its done. We are capable of real dialog without snarkiness and hurt feelings, but we need to practice. Jo writes on his Facebook page:
In this digital age, kids need to know how to give proper, legitimate constructive criticism by age 12, now...
Concepts like:
  • Only jump in and say something if it really, really, really matters to you.
  • Before you jump in, consider whether or not your opinion is going to change anyone’s mind.
  • When you jump in, keep it simple. Focus on the words and behavior.
  • Keep it about The Thing, not the other person - Start off with “I” (like “I think the thing … ” or “I believe the issue … ”) not “you.”
  • Explain why you disagree (do your homework first).
  • Don’t just complain – contribute something positive to help move the conversation forward; keep it factual, mature, polite…
  • And don’t argue with the stupid or crazy, it never helps.
PORN. The average age of exposure is about 9 or 10 years old. [If you really have no idea how easy it is to come across "inappropriate content" try an image search for "nude" to see how graphic the results are -- this is me talking, not Jo. Trust me, you won't be looking at classic Renaissance paintings.] As a mother of teenage daughters, I have big concerns when it comes to porn and what kids are actually learning about healthy sexuality. In future posts, I plan to cover the pile of books I've been working my way through, including Untangled, by Lisa Damour, American Girls by Nancy Jo Sales, and Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein. Stand by...

As I conclude, my education continues as I look for ways to provide healthy sex education for kids to counter that which they might be learning from pornography or their other online exploits. Jo Langford is one the best resources I have found. If you have the opportunity to hear him in person (or even via webinar), GO. Follow him on Facebook, visit his website, make a point to know his name and his work. It has been my pleasure to work with some amazing educators over the last few years, many that are female. I've been hoping for a male voice, though, not because I think I will learn more or better, but because a different perspective is helpful for me. As I have told my students (and you) many times, I'm female, in a family of females, raising females. Not that there's anything wrong with that...but other points of view help!

UPDATE, April 25: Jo writes...

My new book, Spare Me ‘The Talk’!” THE GIRL VERSION! is coming out next month.
Seattle Children’s Hospital is hosting me (as part of ParentMap’s 2016 Lecture Series) on May 24th from 7-9pm. It will be a talk regarding media trends and safety for parents of t/weens, as well as the book launch for the new book. There will be new/ updated info of topics if you have seen me speak in the past around the most popular social networking apps kids are using, as well as some stats and tips around Sexting, Cyberbullying and Pornography. Please share with anyone you think might benefit/ be interested, and come celebrate with me!
Jo Langford

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Raising Kids in a Digital World 2016 - Oasis Youth Center

Tacoma's Oasis
Last night, Sam, Emily, and I had the privilege of taking our show "on the road" and sitting down for a discussion with parents in the Project 13! group at Tacoma's Oasis Youth Center. Thank you to all for your enthusiastic participation! Whether you were able to come or not, please find our slides below and links directly to many of our resources (which can also be downloaded as a complete document HERE).

Common Sense Media - Facebook

Family Online Safety Institute - Facebook

Pew Internet & American Life Project - Facebook

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Common Sense Census

Common Sense Census Infographic
also posted at 

We love data! Analyzing trends and figuring out what’s going on in the digital lives of our kids involves asking a lot of questions, reading plenty of books and articles, and looking at vast collections of numbers. What’s especially tricky to dissect, however, is what all the numbers mean when the pace of technological change is so rapid. For example, If you’ve come to our workshops any time in the last 5 years, you know we’ve been waiting for current data to compare to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2010 study that shows kids spend, on average, 7 hours and 38 minutes with entertainment media daily. Well guess what didn’t exist in when the Kaiser study was published? Instagram (launched October 2010) and Snapchat (released September 2011) are now two of the most popular social media apps among teens. Minecraft was just a baby in 2010, but has exploded in popularity, along with other games, since then. How do these new contenders vie for kids’ attention and how might they impact media consumption hours?

This past November, Common Sense Media released the Common Sense Census, a comprehensive report on media use by teens and tweens. According to this new report, media time is now 9 hours a day for teens (6 hours for tweens). And these numbers do NOT include homework time! So how does a family set reasonable limits and support kids in developing responsible and healthy habits when it comes to their use of media and technology? CSM recommends four tips in The New Guide to Managing Media for Tweens and Teens:
  1. set limits on screens of all sizes
  2. promote creative, responsible consumption, not passive use
  3. understand the myth of multitasking
  4. set a good example!
We will be covering all this and more at our annual workshop on January 28th. And if your child is not yet a tween or teen? Let’s discuss young kids’ media and tech use and proactively set the stage for what is to come. We have much to share, and plenty of resources to take with you as your family works together to build, test, revise, and strengthen the guidelines, values, and expectations you want to promote. We look forward to seeing you!

Friday, May 1, 2015

FOMO and the "Cellphone Bypass"

I've had a revelation! In the past several weeks, since our parent workshop, I've been mulling over this idea of what I have come to call the "cellphone bypass." When our children have the means to communicate directly with each other (through their phones or other personal devices), home phones are pretty irrelevant. Many people don't even have a common family phone line any more! So no longer is there a person calling your house, asking to speak to an adult about an upcoming event, or even asking a child directly about something while they are on the phone in a common space where the parental units are likely to overhear the conversation and perhaps ask, "What's going on? Is this something I should know about?" Nothing earth-shattering in this realization, obviously, but I'm having a personal epiphany here...indulge me.

Until today, I have been considering the "bypass" mostly from the perspective of the grumpy mom who is the last to find out when her kids are planning something that no one has bothered to tell her about, or give her any details that she considers ESSENTIAL to life planning. And as the keeper of the family calendar, and as the Director of Driving Operations, I need to be informed. Gone are the days when invitations to parties arrived by mail, when calls came to the house and adults exchanged information. In many cases, kids are attempting to just "handle it" on their own because they can easily talk to each other through their individual devices. I hope I'm not the only parent who finds this annoying a lot of the time.

Today, however, I had a different thought about it. Adults perpetually lament teens' attachment to their phones ("Can you put that DOWN for a few minutes, please?") and the myriad drawbacks we see to their constant connection to others through a screen. The term FOMO, Fear of Missing Out, is an ailment afflicting people everywhere who stay constantly connected because they don't want to miss anything!

Well guess what? I have it. Not the kind that makes me want to check my own phone constantly, because I can take it or leave it, and I'm often quite happy to leave it. But I have the kind of FOMO that resents the cell phone bypass because it cuts me out of the process. I'm out of the loop. Plans are getting made without me. I'm essential to fulfilling those commitments and making sure the plans actually happen, but I don't get brought in until late in the process. And I bluster and complain and whine about it...but what I really feel? 

A little sad, if I'm honest. 

I still want to be involved and included. A part of my kids' lives. The way I used to be when they were little and everything went through me first. ACK! When did I become this person?

#FOMO #thestruggleisreal

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Parenting in a Digital World, 2015

Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Wow, it's been a while since we've written a post here! I suppose that speaks to how busy we have been this school year, but we are working to get back into a regular writing routine, I promise. There is so much to share and discuss!

Last night we hosted our annual Parenting in a Digital World workshop, and I left feeling super energized and excited to tackle future initiatives, share more stories and research with the families in our community, and extremely grateful to the folks who came, participated, and contributed wholeheartedly to an excellent discussion of current issues facing our kids (and us, too!) with an eye toward creating a more pleasant, kind, and educational digital world. It was great!

Here in one neat spot are all the resources from the presentation, as well as a few links to stories we brought up as examples, more statistics, and helpful sites you might want to check out. If you have any questions or requests for us to address particular topics, please leave a comment!

Our slide presentation:

SMAHRT Slide Presentation

Texting/Emoji Quiz (just for fun)

The Resource List (downloadable document)



Online Resources:

Adolescent Development:

Media Conversation Hooks

  • “what’s your favorite way to communicate with your friends?”
  • “what does _____ do that ______ doesn’t?”
  • (insert names of two favorite apps) 
  • “what’s hard to say face-to- face that is easier to say online?”
  • “what did you learn about someone online that they have never told you face-to-face?”
  • “how do you show friends how you feel online? What happens if someone misunderstands it?”
  • “what topics are too important to you to talk about online?”
  • “what’s the funniest status update you’ve ever shared?”
  • “what do you wish you hadn’t shared?”(or, I once shared this, and I wish I hadn’t. has that ever happened to you?”)
  • “how do you help a friend who suddenly has a bunch of snarky comments on something they posted?”
  • “what do you do when you feel lonely?”
  • “wow. I just learned that college students prefer to learn from textbooks instead of e-books. Why do you think that is?”
  • “what app did you used to use that you don’t any more. What changed?”

Lindy West interviews her "troll" on NPR

Other Statistics from Different Sources (Document)

Linked here is a list of stats compiled from two different sources. The first is from an upcoming documentary from The Representation Project called The Mask You Live In (trailer below). I do a great deal of work in my Digital Citizenship class around stereotypes in the media, and more specifically we look at gender stereotypes, identity, and the roles kids assume in their interactions with others. I firmly believe that a huge part of the "trouble" kids get into with technology--their language, behavior, sexting, exploring that "inappropriate" content they all mention--could be avoided if we were willing to have more open conversations with them around sexuality, emotions, self-esteem, group think, fitting in, and all the angst-y things associated with their adolescence. To that end, we have looked deeply at the messages our society and the media send us about who we are supposed to be, act like, and look like, especially through the lenses of masculinity and femininity in our culture.  After producing Miss Representation, about the portrayal of women in the media, filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom decided to look at the other side of things and try to answer the question, "What is happening to our boys?" There are some shocking and heartbreaking statistics that come out of her work and the research behind it. After sharing the film's trailer and a few of the statistics with students, I've had several boys express a keen interest in seeing the film and spending more time discussing the issues it raises. Charles Wright has purchased the rights to screen the film, and the accompanying curriculum, but we are still waiting to receive it. It should be here in May sometime! We will keep you posted. The film as it was originally produced is for a 16+ audience. The educational version we have purchased will include a PG-13 version that will be more appropriate for us to use. I plan to write a more thorough post on all that I have learned since I dove into "Boy World." Stay tuned...

The second set of stats come from Dr. Elizabeth Englander, who hosted a webinar online that I recently attended, sponsored by the Digital Citizenship group at Common Sense Media and Her book is in the list of resources above. Great stuff from her team here!