Partner Spotlight: My Digital TAT2

Answers were provided by Jennifer Mineer, My Digital TAT2’s Executive Director

When did your organization launch and why?

Founded by a psychologist and clinical social worker, our organization began in 2012 as a partnership to help young people, parents, and educators understand the digital world. We saw hate sites being formed, students overwhelmed, and parents upset by an online world they did not understand. This was a time of finger-pointing, panic, blame, and fear of what was then called cyber-space.

Adults did not know the answers. We realized that we had to listen directly to young people to understand their perspectives. We formed focus groups of middle and high school students. It was from their voices that we learned about this brave new world. We learned that if youth were bullied at school, a student could no longer escape when they went home. The bullying followed youth online. There were no road maps or rules of conduct.

Young people were not asking adults for help because when they did parents would take their devices away. We also learned that young people wanted guidance and welcomed non-judgmental curiosity from adults. They are the most effective partners in helping to create a safe, ethical, kind digital world. We became a 501(c)(3) in 2016, and since then have expanded our work to include school and healthcare partners, and multiple opportunities for youth in our teen empowerment program.

What does your organization do? What are its main goals? Main projects

Our mission is to foster agency and resilience in young people. We empower students, families, and educators to understand the role of technology and the impact of their online presence. We work to facilitate conversations that inspire thoughtful and ethical online behavior to help people think critically about their power and responsibility in a connected world.

My Digital TAT2 addresses how to build healthy habits, critical thinking, and thoughtful online behavior in order to integrate technology into our lives in a constructive way. We do this by leading workshops with students during their school day, parent education sessions, and training with healthcare professionals that serve schools and school-aged children.

Our workshops are designed to facilitate open communication between youth and the adults in their lives to ensure youth are safe when online and feel supported. My Digital TAT2 identifies needs directly from youth participants, amplifies youth voices through our teen empowerment programming, and relays those insights through our educational workshops. My Digital TAT2 is committed to identifying and understanding the ways that digital life impacts the overall and mental health of communities, and thus additionally partners with healthcare and other nonprofit organizations.

What makes your organization stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about your organization?

Youth voice is at the center of all of our work. We believe young people are an integral part of the solution to create an online world that is safe, ethical, just, and kind. We listen carefully to the young people we work with- in middle and high school advisory groups, summer internships, and in classroom workshops from 3rd-12th grade. We learn from their experiences and perspectives, and continually update our student, parent and educator workshops and trainings to reflect what we have learned.

Our entire team works alongside the youth advisors and teen interns involved in the outreach initiatives attached to robust and synchronous School Partnerships, Healthcare Partnerships, and Teen Empowerment projects. For our School partnerships program, we rely on our team of educators and prioritize hiring educators from the communities we serve. We are committed to recruiting and retaining bilingual educators to maintain organizational health and deeply rooted partnerships.

What are recent projects or new resources that your organization would like to share with other NAMLE members?

Developing digital resilience: An educational intervention improves elementary students’ response to digital challenges, and Nurturing Digital Resilience: Talking to Kids About Relationships Online.

What are the connections between the work of your organization and media literacy?

The online realm is something that carries a heavy responsibility yet is an incredibly powerful tool. As families face this world full of new rules and new challenges to solve, we partner with them to encourage more responsible technology use. Our team includes teen interns as well as high school and middle school advisory boards – these young people help direct our research and contribute to curriculum development. This is essential as it centers the youth voice in all of our work and outreach. Amplifying the youth voice is at the core of our work. In partnership with young people, we stay current and focused on what challenges them. Our developmentally based curriculum is iterative and uses youth voice to direct focus areas and hone in on current topics. Given the massive increase in AI technology, of technology integration into schoolwork, and the continued impacts of the pandemic, our work is even more important as the average amount of time young people spend online is upwards of 12 hours per day. Much of it is also unsupervised and that is where our work is even more vital.

Why is media literacy important to your organization?

The online realm carries heavy responsibility yet is an incredibly powerful tool. As schools and families face this world full of new rules and challenges, we have identified a need to understand the role of technology and the impact of online presence. Our youth advisory boards feel that their relationships with media and technology are not understood. Principals at our partner schools share that parents are overworked and stressed, and not able to effectively supervise or influence device use at home. Families share breakdowns in communication around expectations for media use. These challenges can be exacerbated for parents managing time and financial stressors. Additional digital concerns may present in immigrant families where children and parents navigate cultural differences. Systemic racism means BIPOC youth are more likely to experience harassment/bullying online, and are less likely to have additional resources that can provide a buffer against these experiences.

Anything else you want our readers to know about your organization, your mission, or your staff?

We address these problems around agency and resiliency online from multiple angles: to reduce harassment and bullying through educational school-based workshops that teach young people strategies to stand up against online hate, and help foster a more robust, protective community space via education projects for parents/guardians, healthcare partners (counselors, clinicians), and teacher/administrator workshops. We are always looking for school and healthcare partners, and of course, youth advisors!

The views and opinions expressed in the Organizational Spotlight blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of NAMLE or its members. The purpose of the Organizational Spotlight blog is to highlight our Organizational Partners and give them a place to share their reflections, opinions, and ideas.