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Start teaching children safe online behavior earlier, new national initiative urges

November 03, 2015

DURHAM, NC — A national initiative to encourage good digital citizenship in school children as young as 4 years of age has been launched by FHI 360, a nonprofit human development organization, as part of the first U.S. Media Literacy Week (#MediaLitWk). Called Right from the Start in the Digital Age, the project aims to help children become responsible digital citizens from their earliest exposure to the Internet and to prevent them from engaging in, and being affected by, unsafe behaviors, such as cyberbullying.

child looking at phoneU.S. Media Literacy Week will be held November 2–6, 2015. Hosted by the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), it will highlight the power of media literacy education and its essential role in today’s world. The Right from the Start in the Digital Age initiative is funded through the FHI Foundation Catalyst Fund, which helps to develop forward-thinking approaches that transform the ways in which we address human development needs.

“Inappropriate online behaviors, including cyberbullying, can have a disastrous and long-term impact on children," said Barbara Sprung, Co-Director, Educational Equity, FHI 360. “A single text message, a Facebook comment, or an Instagram post can lead to devastating consequences. Teaching and learning appropriate, respectful and safe online behavior at the earliest possible time is the best way to prevent cyberbullying, to prepare children for the challenges of the digital age and to help them develop a strong sense of knowing right from wrong.”

Although children ages 4 to 8 may not yet be actively and independently engaged online, teaching them about safe online behaviors earlier rather than later can help to instill a strong sense of knowing right from wrong both online and off. Right from the Start in the Digital Age invites parents, educators, media producers, advocates and policymakers to sign a declaration and to take other important steps in the development of picture books, classroom materials, apps and software that promote and foster safe, responsible digital behavior. 

The initiative will advance Quit it!, FHI 360’s research-based program that addresses teasing and bullying in grades K–3. Since 1998, Quit it! has reduced real-time teasing and bullying behavior in urban and suburban schools in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York City by more than 35 percent. 

Quit it! A Teacher’s Guide on Teasing and Bullying for Use with Students in Grades K–3 is listed in the UNESCO Compendium of good practices in human rights education in the school system, including citizenship education and education for mutual respect and understanding. As part of the Right from the Start in the Digital Age initiative, the Quit it! teacher’s guide will be updated and will include information for children about responsible use of the Internet and strategies that teachers, parents and caregivers can use in the classroom and at home to educate children on this important issue. The expanded version of Quit it! will be available in early 2016 in a digital format suitable for downloading to cellphones, tablets and other digital devices.

“Digital media has changed the world and is having a tremendous impact on every aspect of our lives, including the lives of even the youngest children,” said Merle Froschl, Co-Director, Educational Equity, FHI 360. “Our guidance on how children should behave lags behind the changes in this new, virtual world.  A new educational paradigm is needed so that teachers, parents and caregivers can help children develop skills and establish strong digital citizenship principles in the earliest grades. This will enable them to thrive in both the real and digital worlds in which they are growing up.”

A declaration of support for the new initiative has been signed by organizations that include FHI 360, Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network, NAMLE, and New America.

About FHI 360
FHI 360 is a nonprofit human development organization dedicated to improving lives in lasting ways by advancing integrated, locally driven solutions. Our staff includes experts in health, education, nutrition, environment, economic development, civil society, gender, youth, research, technology, communication, and social marketing — creating a unique mix of capabilities to address today’s interrelated development challenges. FHI 360 serves more than 70 countries and all U.S. states and territories. For more information, visit

The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) is a professional association for educators, academics, activists and students with a passion for understanding how the media we use and create affect our lives and the lives of others in our communities and in the world. The NAMLE vision is to help individuals of all ages develop the habits of inquiry and skills of expression that they need to be critical thinkers, effective communicators and active citizens in today’s world. For more information, visit

Photo credit: Breanna Peterson/Offset