Computers, tablets, smart phones, game consoles, and so many more devices surround us, offering the constant potential for Internet use and communication. Not only are these devices so widespread that almost everyone in the country has access to them, the most tech-savvy generation of all, with the people most adept at using these devices, is today’s school-aged youth. These “digital natives,” as they’re being called, are quick learners and have never known a world without easy digital access. All of this technology can be a great tool. It keeps information literally at our fingertips, and makes communication—from around the world to across the room—much easier and more convenient. With all of these great advances, there are dangers as well; sadly, some of the people most vulnerable to these dangers are those most skilled at using the devices that put them at the greatest risk. This is where NetSmartz comes in.

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The goal of the NetSmartz program is to provide Utah’s school-age youth population with the knowledge and confidence to protect themselves and their digital futures.

NetSmartz Director Max Rogers explains “We do this by providing age-appropriate trainings to groups of students in Utah’s schools. We provide large and small group trainings that are motivational in nature, with interactive components that allow the students to participate in the training. We also provide follow-up trainings that provide a hands-on individual learning experience.”

NetSmartz is provided through the Utah Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs, and NetSmartz staff members use Boys & Girls Clubs sites near them as their home base, between trainings. During the 2013-14 school year NetSmartz provided 498,000 trainings, covering 72 percent of Utah schools.

One of the important aspects of the NetSmartz program is gearing trainings towards targeted age groups. Young people’s minds progress at different rates, and while it’s important to teach all children about digital safety, this has to be done in a way that reflects the age and maturity of the student audience. As they work to keep trainings age-appropriate, student groupings are typically: grades K-2, 3-4, 5-6, intermediate, middle, and high school.

Since its creation in 2006, NetSmartz has received state funding to accomplish its mission. This funding, provided by the State of Utah and managed by the Utah Office of the Attorney General, is awarded through a highly sought-after grant. In the last two months Rogers went through the RFP (request for proposal) process to secure a funding renewal. NetSmartz was considered alongside other similar programs throughout Utah, and was selected as the program that provided the best programming and the best value to the state.

One of the new additions to the program in the past year is the implementation of post-program surveys that have helped NetSmartz become more proven and tested. The data collected has allowed the staff to measure the impact this program has on the youth who participate. “The cool thing about that is it shows that we are not just providing the students with knowledge but we are empowering them to make real changes in their lives and the lives of their peers,” stated Rogers.

In fact, more than 96 percent of students surveyed say they are more informed about and better prepared to face Internet dangers, and are more likely to report cyber bullying after participating in the training.

This program has had unparalleled success in providing the most successful statewide Internet safety initiative in the nation.

NetSmartz is a great tool for helping the young people of Utah understand how to safely and productively enjoy technology. Through these trainings, the youth receive interactive, age-appropriate guidance that helps them become knowledgeable and confident in protecting themselves and their digital futures. This is so vital in today’s world where advances in technology happen every day, and Internet access is omnipresent. Together, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Utah County and NetSmartz work to serve young people. We are proud of this partnership, and look forward to the NetSmartz program reaching more youth and having a greater impact. You can learn more about NetSmartz at our website, or on our Facebook page NetSmartz – Provided by Utah Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs.