What’s Your Story?

Using a video contest to teach, while doing good

GUEST COLUMN | by Lynette Owens

What's Your Story imageThe Internet is so deeply woven into our lives, for both work and play, and increasingly being utilized to educate our youth. Putting such a powerful tool in younger and younger hands requires guidance beyond its use for academic purposes only. It is important to teach kids that the Internet is a community of which they are a part and need to understand. We need to guide them to become good online citizens, wherever, whenever and at as young an age as possible.

But this is not a job that just belongs to the schools. It also belongs to parents who are typically the first to introduce their kids to the Internet. It belongs to technology companies who create the means by which we access it. It belongs to media companies who create the content and connections that all users – kids included – need and want to access on the Internet. Frankly, it belongs to all of us.

The mission of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families is to do just that: teach kids, and anyone responsible for shaping their lives, to use the Internet in ways that do not harm them or anyone else, but also in ways that help them be successful, productive global citizens. Yes, we are a technology company, but we believe technology alone is not the answer to this. Education is the key.

How the ‘What’s Your Story? Contest’ was Born

There are many ways to teach, depending on subject matter and audience. Ours was a topic that we constantly have had to learn and adjust to as adults, but for younger generations, it is a much more natural part of everyday life. Due to this reality, messages we created about the best way to use the Internet (beyond just the plain old ‘be safe’ and ‘don’t do this or that’) were seen as being less credible and impactful.

We also wanted to reach youth in a way that engaged them. With 93 percent of teens online and 64 percent of them engaging in some sort of content creation (Pew Center), we felt that capitalizing on social media through some creative means would be a good approach to reaching this Internet-savvy generation.

Youth market research firm YPulse recently wrote about millennials’ (those born between 1982 and 2004) attitudes and beliefs that “there is huge momentum to pay it forward, and pass on positivity.” Past student winner Samantha Oliveras told us that after participating in What’s Your Story?, “I began to feel as if it was my responsibility to inform teens on the damage ‘sexting’ can have on their lives and others around them.” The mission is to achieve something that benefits many, not just a few, so why not let the ones being affected help be part of the helping process, too?

Our answer to all of this? The What’s Your Story? video contest.

No Ordinary Contest

For the last three years, we’ve been asking young people across the U.S. and Canada to tell us in two minutes or less their stories about safe, responsible technology use. They’ve responded with enthusiasm and creativity. They’ve entertained — and moved — us.

Since 2010, contestants have produced videos, covering a number of topics including cyberbullying, maintaining an online reputation and using your mobile device wisely. Once they submit them, however, they don’t simply sit back and wait to hear the results. Instead, they’re encouraged to spread the word about their work to their friends, families, and communities, using various social networking sharing tools directly from the contest site. By design, we showcase each submission in a way  that social media can be used for good, and enable participants to do the talking. By simply facilitating the use of social networks, we are trying to teach the contestants to become the teachers.

Contestants understand the importance of the crowdsourcing aspect of the contest, since the numbers of views and ratings of their videos impact the finalist selection process. In the end, the final winners are selected by an expert panel of judges, comprised of online safety advocates, technology companies and others.

Additionally, after the contest closes, the winning videos serve as another peer-education and engagement tool for student and educators. Erin Spreer, school counselor at Manhattan High School in Manhattan, Kansas shares that, “As part of our bullying prevention program, we made a lesson based around the 2011 [What’s Your Story?] winner, ‘Where Are You?’ We show the video to the students and facilitate a discussion about what kinds of actions and behaviours are on either side of the line, and where that line is for each person.”

Shift in the Subject Matter: More Than Online Safety

To give guidelines to participants, our contest themes have varied each year: from online privacy to bullying to keeping online information safe. We’ve seen a range of responses: how social networks are used, how cell phones are misused, or how bullying makes people feel and act, for better or worse.

In the world of online safety, it’s hard to avoid conversations about risks, prevention, and the cost of being unaware. Yes, we should absolutely be teaching kids how to use technology in ways that will keep bad things and dangerous people away. But we can’t end the conversation there. Talking about safety alone is not enough. We don’t raise our kids just to be safe people. We raise them hoping they’ll one day be safe and responsible, happy, productive, successful adults – online and off.

In their article titled Online Safety 3.0: Empowering and Protecting Youth, Anne Collier and Larry Magid of ConnectSafely, and members of this year’s judging panel, write, “Like the anonymous quote, ‘peace is more than just the absence of war,’ Internet Safety 3.0 is more than just the absence of danger… It includes finding ways to use technology for learning, collaboration, professional development, community building, civic engagement, and interacting with others. It’s encouraging children and teenagers to thrive in and through their use of technology.” We agree.

What's Your Story‘What’s Your Story?’ has always been driven by this exact sentiment. The program fosters youth agency. It promotes the positive use of technology but what it hadn’t done until now was encourage a discussion beyond “the absence of war.” We wanted to change that.

Looking for the Good Side

We believe that for every negative news story about kids, technology, and ensuing mayhem, there are many more opposing examples; we just don’t hear about them. This year, we want to know how people, particularly the youngest of us, are being great at being online. This year, the ‘What’s Your Story?’ contestants just needs to answer one question: What does the good side of the Internet look like?

Ultimately, we believe this is a better way to motivate others to be safe, responsible, successful users of technology. Let’s move beyond telling them what not to do, a theme that pervades most messaging directed at youth on the Internet. Instead, let’s provide the stage and let them show others what works and what’s possible. We hope that these stories of smart, creative, safe, responsible, productive uses of the Internet might encourage and inspire others to do the same. It matters enough to us that this year, we’re offering not one, but two $10,000 grand prizes: one for a school and one for an individual filmmaker.

According to YPulse, “Millennials are eager to participate in this chain reaction and exhibit acts of kindness.” We believe this. In fact, we’re banking $20,000+ on it.

If you know an aspiring film-maker, teacher, or school that could do a great job of answering this year’s question, please spread the word. For more information about the 2013 What’s Your Story? contest, theme, prizes, rules, and deadlines, go to: whatsyourstory.trendmicro.com Follow contest updates @TrendMicro @TrendISKF or @lynettetowens and use the hashtag #WYScontest

Lynette Owens is the founder and global director of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families (ISKF) program. A mom of two school-aged children, Lynette established the ISKF program in 2008 to help extend the company’s vision of making a world safe for the exchange of digital information to the world’s youngest citizens. The program, active in 19 countries, helps kids, families, and schools become safe, responsible, and successful users of technology. Follow Lynette on Twitter @lynettetowens or read her blog: internetsafety.trendmicro.com

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