Promoting Internet Safety and Healthy Online Relationships

Promoting Internet Safety and Healthy Online Relationships

Adapting Digital Citizenship Lessons for Youth with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Published: Jan 31, 2023
Publisher: Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Associated Project

PREP: Supporting Evaluation and Innovation in Promising Youth Pregnancy Prevention Programs

Time frame: 2016-2023

Prepared for:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Family & Youth Services Bureau

Key Findings
  • Through a review of literature and curricula and discussions with experts and youth with IDD, the PREP-PYP team identified internet safety—with a focus on healthy online relationships—as a gap in the existing materials available for youth with IDD. The feedback from experts and youth with IDD also guided the adaptations made to the Digital Citizenship lessons, which included revising all individual or paired activities to be group discussions, updating terminology for easier comprehension, and adding flexibility in the timing of lesson delivery.
  • During the implementation pilot, facilitators described the adapted lesson plans as thorough, straightforward, and easy to follow and thought the lessons introduced youth to relevant internet safety concepts they need to have safe and healthy relationships online. They found youth actively engaged in the lessons and enjoyed the content.
  • Facilitators noted that the lessons might not be suitable for all youth with IDD because the content might be too challenging for students with the lowest functioning. For example, some youth struggled with concepts that the lessons did not explicitly show or state. However, using comprehension checks of key concepts throughout the lesson helped overcome this challenge.
  • The youth had an overall positive response to the lessons. They liked the inclusion of videos and scenarios and enjoyed the discussions of key concepts throughout those activities, such as how to tell if an online relationship is risky. The information in the lessons was new for some youth, but others had heard similar information before.
  • The differences in understanding the lesson content contributed to several youth suggesting that the lessons are more useful for adolescents who have not previously had education on internet safety or healthy online relationships. However, many youth reported that the lessons were good reminders, even for youth previously exposed to the content.
  • Some of the youth stated that the internet safety lessons will change their online behavior. Youth who did not think it would change their behavior said this was because they already know how to stay safe, or they talk with a parent or trusted adult when situations arise.

To reduce the risks related to sexual activity and help youth transition to adulthood, Congress authorized the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. PREP was reauthorized in 2015 and 2018 for additional years of funding. PREP programs must educate youth on abstinence and contraception for the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections and must provide instruction to prepare youth for adulthood. PREP grantees include state and tribal agencies, as well as community-based organizations, and receive funding from the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

To support PREP programming, ACF contracted with Mathematica to conduct the PREP: Promising Youth Programs (PREP-PYP) project. One aim of PREP-PYP was to develop or adapt sexual health curricula for underserved populations. FYSB selected youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) as a focal population and identified content on internet safety with a focus on healthy online relationships as a gap in existing curricula. To help fill that gap, the PREP-PYP team adapted two lessons from Digital Citizenship, a K—12 curriculum developed by Common Sense Education and Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, to build skills for youth to have healthy relationships in person and online. The two adapted lessons are (1) Chatting and Red Flags and (2) Rewarding Relationships.

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