6th-grade boys teach 4th graders ‘Digital Citizenship’ at The Buckley School on Upper East Side in Manhattan

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UPPER EAST SIDE, Manhattan (WABC) — The Buckley School on the Upper East Side has introduced a new class in which 6th-grade boys teach 4th graders how to navigate the internet safely.

With so many games available online along with so many other forms of entertainment, instruction in what’s called ‘digital citizenship’ is more important than ever before for children.

I attended Buckley as a boy, and it was there I learned the difference between right and wrong. However, determining the line between those two is a lot more complicated in the digital age.

The boys leading the class used two games that look a lot alike as an example.

Each involves basketball and has ‘NBA’ in the title, but one of these apps is safe, and the other is not!

The bad one, “kept forcing me to try and buy this thing called virtual currency,” 6th grader Alston Smith said, “which is a way of spending your money for currency only good in this game.”

Alston is showing 4th grader, Aden Smith (no relation), how to best navigate an internet that can be truly treacherous.

“Some apps just aren’t good for you,” Alston said. “And, you sometimes become too addicted, and sometimes the apps are just not age-appropriate.”

Teacher Willie Dominguez called for an example to help the students determine what was appropriate.

Matteo Molinari, who is in 4th grade, urged us to look at a game’s rating.

“If it says 15+ it probably has like curse words and gun violence,” Molinari said.

Dr. Julie King, who is leading this class, wrote her doctoral dissertation on how boys engage online.

“A piece that often gets missed is lifting up the kids’ voices,” Dr. King said. “And, we all know that kids are a lot more interested in listening to other kids.”

That was very evident during our visit to The Buckley School Library.

“Do we want to listen to my friends? Or do I want to listen to my teacher?” 6th grader Cruz Natori said. “I’ll choose my friends because I probably like them more.”

That may be hard for parents to hear, but this peer-to-peer advice comes at a crucial age.

“Fourth graders often are just getting ready to dip their toes into more unsupervised activity online,” Dr. King said, “and the 6th-grade boys are just a couple of years ahead, but those are really important formative years of time online.”

Plus, today’s kids know more about life online than their parents who grew up in an era before technology became so dominant in our lives.

Dr. King said today’s boys and girls “are savvier and more courageous and more vulnerable and more connected I think that even adults realize.”

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