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RESPECT: Makes young people safer online

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Aretha said it best in 1967

The conversation around Internet safety has moved a long way since the 1990s when it focused mostly on porn and predators and we’ve even evolved since 2009 when ConnectSafely published Online Safety 3.0: Empowering and Protecting Youth.

Along with colleagues, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to position online safety messaging and how to integrate it with offline risks (the overlap is pretty major) and with youth rights — an important part of the discussion that is often missing.

I realize that something as complex as the way we interact with connected technology can’t really be reduced to a soundbite or even an acronym, but that didn’t stop me from trying. So, to make things simple, I’m paying homage to Aretha Franklin, whose classic song “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” sets the tone for how I think we should be talking about youth online safety and rights.

Read on to “find out what it means to me.” And when you’re done, click on the image below to listen to Aretha sing it out.

Rights and Responsibilities:

Human rights for young people are essential to their safety. And that not only includes their right to be safe, but their right of free speech and assembly. These rights are guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and they apply online as well as off. Blocking access to social media, for example, violates their rights and, I would argue, their safety as well. Rights also tie into privacy, such as student rights to the privacy of their personal data on their own devices and school servers.

And to help safeguard our rights and the rights of others, it’s important to be Responsible for our actions online and off.

Emotional literacy (AKA ‘Social Emotional Learning’):

No matter how hard we try, adults can’t possibly stomp out all bullying and cruelty, But there is research to show that we can help head it off at the pass by teaching emotional literacy, also known as Social Emotional Learning, from kindergarten on. Helping young people learn compassion, empathy and kindness will go a long way toward creating the kind of world that we all want to live in.


You can’t be safe or free if you’re not secure. We need to not only get industry and government to help secure our devices and infrastructure, but teach everyone — starting with children — how to protect their devices and their data against unauthorized intrusion.

Privacy and Protection:

We all have a right to privacy. Whether it’s government, companies or even prying educators and parents, kids have a right to keep their information private. Sure there are exceptions when it comes to some parents’ need to monitor and guide their children but, as a general rule, children should be treated RESPECTfully, which includes respecting their privacy.

Young people do have the right to be protected from harm, but it’s impossible to shield them from all potential harms, which is why resiliency is so important.

Education and digital literacy:

Digital literacy can go a long way toward protecting us online. And it’s not just knowing how to operate computers and mobile devices. It’s developing the critical thinking skills and internal compass to help make good decisions in our digital lives, including making good media choices.


Being considerate of others means not just treating them with respect and kindness but also respecting their privacy and their rights. It’s about taking the time to think about how our actions will affect others and doing the right thing.

Thoughtfulness and Tolerance:

“Think before you click” is just one of many sound bites that come under the general category of thoughtfulness. It doesn’t take long to think about the implications and consequences of what you’re about to do, especially in a medium like the Internet where there really is no such thing as an “eraser button.”

Tolerance means accepting and celebrating our differences and giving ourselves and each other a break now and then.  Embracing the notion that it’s OK to be different goes a long way towards reducing bullying and meanness.