In the eighth installment of FOSI’s Ask the Expert Series, Erin McCowey spoke with Trisha Prabhu about her newly released book, how to communicate more effectively with your middle school student, and the importance of children having access to a trusted adult.
Trisha Prabhu is the 22-year-old Founder & CEO of ReThink, a patented, world-acclaimed app tackling cyberbullying. She is also a graduate of Harvard University, where she was named a 2022 U.S. Rhodes Scholar. Her debut book, “ReThink the Internet,” an educational guide to the Internet for youth, was released May 31st, 2022, from Penguin Random House. Check it out here.
Middle school can be such a trying time for both parents and kids. How can your new book, ReThink the Internet: How to Make the Digital World a Lot Less Sucky, bridge the communication gap for families with children in that age group?
Thank you so much for raising this important point. There's no denying that there is a communication gap -- after all, just 1 out 10 cyberbullied youth tell an adult about their online harassment (source: DoSomething.org) -- and middle school is often when this communication gap takes hold. Indeed, it's in middle school that a lot students: 1) get their first phone and/or start to use social media regularly, 2) begin to assert their autonomy from their parents, all the while 3) facing new and more difficult in-person and online challenges -- that, in fact, often require the help of a parent. The result is a perfect storm for bad online interactions to become worse and/or spiral into even more trying situations.
With that in mind, I designed ReThink the Internet to help bridge this communication gap/prevent those consequences: the book actually contains a Companion Guide for educators and parents – with chapter summaries, reflection questions, and more – so that they can support youth as they read the book and initiate vital conversations with them about their use of technology and the Internet. The Companion Guide also offers parents and educators advice on how to support readers as they complete the book's "Internet Challenges," or fun, end-of-chapter exercises that allow readers to practice the digital literacy concept they've learned in that chapter. By helping initiate and facilitate conversation between parents and youth about the digital world -- and doing so in a way that is relatable and interesting to young readers -- the book can, I believe, promote more trust and transparency between parents and kids on the subject of tech use.
If you could sum up ReThink the Internet in a few points, what would be the one takeaway you hope kids gain in reading this book and completing each Internet Challenge?
The one takeaway I hope kids gain in reading this book and completing the Internet Challenges is: as digital citizens -- members of a larger online community -- we all have a responsibility to acknowledge and address the not-so-great stuff associated with the Internet, whether cyberbullying or even spending too much time on our devices. Put more simply, I hope readers leave thinking: "If I run into a tough situation online, I know what to do." And indeed, that's the mission of ReThink the Internet: to equip youth with the skills to confidently navigate the tricky parts of the digital world -- and ultimately, be an Upstander for those around them. The book's funny, fictional stories introduce readers to these digital literacy lessons and skills, while the Internet Challenges offer readers the opportunity to go from the theoretical to the practical, and put their learning into action!
How important is it for kids to have a good digital role model or trusted adult in their lives when they encounter bad digital behavior? What type of person is good for this role?
It's incredibly important for youth to have a good digital role model when they encounter bad digital behavior, especially when they're new to the Internet/social media or find themselves in pressure-filled online settings (for example, it's particularly easy for kids to turn a blind eye to or even join in on online harassment when they're in a group chat, and feel social pressure to participate). In those cases (and others), a good digital role model -- and the lessons and values they embody -- are what can help youth make the right call -- whether it's safely standing up to rude comments or choosing not to say something rude themselves.
What type of person is good for this role? There's no one type of person that's perfect (for instance, I can certainly see educators and parents as role models), but I personally believe that the most powerful digital role models for youth are fellow young people. When youth see a fellow young person advocating for a certain set of digital practices, they're much more likely to take that advocacy seriously, and to look up to/embody that role model. That's part of what, I think, makes ReThink the Internet so impactful: it's narrated by an anti-hate activist that began this work at just 13 years old (me!), and each chapter -- which covers a different digital literacy lesson -- features young people, all learning and growing to be their best in the digital world. In many ways, then, ReThink the Internet gives readers a number of youth role models, all of whom impart wisdom that readers can turn to when they face their own challenges online.