Written by Lila Perkins, Teacher/Administrative Assistant Banyan Global Learning

I was born in 1997, which makes me an elder of Gen-Z. I was in the “guinea pig” group when it came to implementing technology in the classroom. While participating in the transition from chalkboards to smartboards, I couldn’t help but feel like I was running a race that only got faster.

Our teachers were learning in tandem with us students, meaning we had more agency as kids in our own online development. Every month my classmates and I were exposed to new bouts of technology advancements, and with those advancements came uncharted territory.

We did not have in-depth knowledge of the dangers of technology. 

This resulted in many of my classmates being exposed to things that we were not prepared to deal with. One wrong click and the screen would be filled with violence, gore, or adult content. Even with the implementation of parental controls, my natural adolescent curiosity propelled me to dig deeper into the internet’s crevices. Of course my parents warned me not to poke my nose where it didn’t belong… but my thirst for knowledge and entertainment (and, maybe a little bit, the forbidden itself) overwhelmed whatever small warnings I was given.

I had an innocent desire to absorb more of the world through this miracle technology. But because internet literacy was not stressed enough in school, I ended up watching and reading a plethora of things I was too young to comprehend. I wish I could take a lot of it back.

Now, at age 24, I worry for the kids of today. I feel I have a responsibility as a Gen-Z elder to protect them from the dangers and stresses of the rapidly evolving online world.

Upon joining Banyan Global Learning, I was ecstatic to get involved with the Digital Citizenship programs. For our youngest learners, these live virtual programs use a combination of live puppeteering and short videos featuring the same puppets. These vignettes have at least two parts–the first sets up a real-life digital problem while the second models a solution. In between, students are given the opportunity to practice their own digital citizenship skills as they articulate their own solutions to the problem. For our youngest learners, this means showing the puppet Tangie how to properly care for her digital devices and helping her friend Raz decide which links are safe to click on. For upper elementary students it gets more complicated: how can Sunny and her classmates build an online community? How does Olive find balance between screen time and school work? And how should we safeguard our digital footprint when the internet is forever?

After my first few sessions hosting and puppeteering, I realized that even the youngest students were able to make meaningful connections in a safe virtual classroom setting. Each lesson is infused with Social and Emotional Learning. Students leave understanding how the many facets of their online life can impact the emotional wellbeing of themselves and their peers.

Most importantly, even though these programs were for kids, I found healing for myself as well. Growing up with technology but without these kinds of supports, I’ve had to navigate the creation of digital boundaries on my own. 

The world we are leaving for these young learners is full of intense challenges, but I’m comforted by the fact that they are being given a digital toolkit to navigate this part of that world safely.