Most people may think of the YMCA as a place to work out and go to fitness classes.
But in an era of mean tweets, questionable news sources and phishing attacks, the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities is adding workshops to tackle the increasing problem of online safety and lack of civility.
Starting on Monday, the YMCA is teaming up with Google to host free workshops for parents to teach their children about online safety and digital citizenship — how to use the internet responsibly, such as deciphering what’s real and fake, building strong passwords and being kind to one another.
“We’re just surrounded by technology. It’s like a content tsunami,” said Nathan Maehren, senior vice president of digital for the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities. “Now more than ever … more kids are on mobile devices. These are opportunities to bring our families and community together to be more informed.”
The new Be Internet Awesome program, which started as a pilot program in April at a YMCA in Chicago, is expanding to the Twin Cities and four other U.S. communities — Seattle, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Long Island.
It’s the first time the YMCA in the Twin Cities has provided internet safety classes.
The nonprofit is also boosting technology at its locations, adding virtual reality machines and looking to partner with more local tech companies, said Maehren, whose role was one of the first of its kind for the YMCA when it started six years ago.
The 12 one-hour internet workshops will take place in June and July in St. Paul, Minneapolis and their suburbs, coinciding with National Internet Safety Month in June and students’ summer vacation, when they may spend more time on smartphones and tablets. (For a schedule, go to ymcamn.org.)
Most centers are also offering child care services during the workshop. In the fall, the YMCA plans to expand the workshops to 80 sites.
Google is providing the curriculum and funding for the workshops. Maehren said he couldn’t disclose how much money was provided, but that it will cover materials and the nonprofit’s staff time.
He said the classes are geared toward parents and grandparents who can also help model healthy technology habits.
“How do we communicate and talk about technology in a safe way?” he said. “This really crosses all the generations and life stages we serve at the Y.”