Yuhyun Park is empowering young children around the world to become responsible digital citizens by helping them to build the fundamental skills of respect, self-confidence, and empathy through fun and interactive learning activities.
The New Idea
Yuhyun is establishing new ethical standards for young children online by educating them about what a responsible online citizen looks like. The dangers of digital media that children face daily, such as cyberbullying, game addiction, and online predators are well-known. This is what Yuhyun refers to as “infollution,” or information pollution. Instead of framing children as potential victims or perpetrators of infollution and imposing moral guidelines on them, Yuhyun enables children between the ages of 6 to 13 to take control of their digital activities with courage, empathy, and self-awareness. In doing so, children gain an understanding of how they may act civically in both real and “virtual” realms based on their own instinctive moral judgment. Yuhyun has embedded this core principle across various content and platforms in order to generate behavior change more effectively and coherently than piecemeal interventions which address each digital risk in isolation.
Yuhyun believes that helping elementary school students, especially those under 10 years old, develop responsible digital habits is strategically important to build a strong foundation for lifelong digital citizenship. Not only are children starting to use digital media younger than ever before, a moral sense and social relationships start to develop in elementary school years or even earlier. To inspire productive online behavior among children, Yuhyun has developed fun and interactive “edutainment” approaches that distinguish her work from existing digital risk education programs and regulations, which are typically more traditionally instructive and focus on teenagers.
Yuhyun envisions building a global community of children that embody new digital norms to create a sizable demand for responsible information production from media and game companies. To this end, she has developed a strong international network to spread her early success in Korea and Singapore to other countries (starting with the US) and establish infollution and digital citizenship education for children as a global standard. Yuhyun is working to localize and distribute her content through partnerships with leading local citizen organizations, while raising awareness about infollution through research and advocacy.
Children are more digitally connected than ever before at increasingly younger ages. According to the Korea Internet & Security Agency, 88 percent of Korean children between ages 3 and 9 use the Internet on a regular basis. While Korea is the most wired country in the world, similar statistics are found in countries with high online access rates. According to Joan Ganz Cooney Center, at age 3, about one-quarter of American children go online daily, increasing to about half by age 5 and to two-thirds by age 8.
Young children are especially vulnerable to digital risks. They often do not translate general life skills such as not talking to a stranger to the virtual world. Negative online experiences and digital addiction can also affect children’s social, emotional, and physical development. Of children in Korea age 13 or younger, 96 percent report to have accessed pornographic content online and 38 percent have been a victim of cyberbullying. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that 19 percent of American youth ages 10 to 12 have had unwanted exposure to sexual material online. A 2013 global survey by BitDefender reports that children start watching porn from as early as age 6, and begin flirting online from the age of 8.
Regulatory or standards-based efforts alone cannot keep up with the rate at which harmful information is being created. In the midst of a declining financial state and fierce competition, media companies increasingly rely on sensationalism, while the multibillion dollar game industry constantly promotes violent and provocative content. Regulatory approaches may also step on parental rights and child privacy, as in the case of the Korean government banning any children under the age of 16 from accessing gaming websites after midnight. Most existing digital risk education programs focus on adolescents because teenagers are believed to be most active online users among children and thus exposed to higher cyber risks. Hence, these programs tend to focus on intervention rather than prevention, and their instructive approach often does not resonate with today’s younger digital users.
Empowering young children to be disciplined and courageous digital citizens is the centerpiece of Yuhyun’s work. It is when the most vulnerable have the ability to discern and challenge negative digital behavior and see themselves as part of the solution that lasting change happens. Infollution Zero’s flagship iZ Hero program is built on the premise that every child is born a hero with moral values, empathy, and discipline to use Information Technology in a responsible way. Instead of scaring young children with the danger of cyber space and imposing do’s and don’ts on them and their parents, iZ Hero participants are first asked to recognize their ability to “keep promises,” be “wise and sensible” and “respect themselves and others.”
While many digital education and counseling programs are offered as a stand-alone program using a single methodology or medium, Yuhyun designed iZ Hero as a trans-media experience to reinforce core learning. Children repeatedly encounter iZ Hero principles and practice practical tips through iZ Hero’s various storytelling and play platforms, which now includes comic books, online and offline missions involving parents, web-based learning games, interactive exhibitions, and children’s social networks.
The first iZ Hero exhibition held in Seoul, Korea in 2011 attracted 170,000 visitors. In an exit survey, 99 percent of the respondents reported the exhibition had positive impact on their understanding of digital risk. Since then, the Korea Internet & Security Agency opened permanent exhibitions in three cities modeled after the iZ Hero exhibition. Building on the success of the first exhibition in Korea, Yuhyun and her team recently released iZ Hero web content in English and launched the second official iZ Hero exhibition in Singapore at the Singaporean government’s invitation.
To ensure that her content will resonate with young children, Yuhyun engaged a 9-year-old as an auditor to review iZ Hero videos and an 11-year-old to write the script for the first iZ Hero comic book. Yuhyun and her team are currently conducting a rigorous study to measure iZ Hero’s program effectiveness in creating positive attitude and behavior change and deterring negative digital actions. Yuhyun is also exploring ways to integrate the program in Singapore’s public education curriculum in partnership with the Singaporean Ministry of Education.
To translate Infollution Zero’s early success into a global movement to educate young iZ Heroes, Yuhyun is actively forming strategic partnerships for worldwide distribution and visibility. For instance, in fall of 2013, she joined forces with the US, Korean, and Canadian governments to launch a global mobile security campaign and add mobile content to iZ Hero. Yuhyun is also in early stages of thinking through localizing and spreading iZ Hero to Southeast Asian countries in collaboration with UNESCO and the Eisenhower Fellowship network. Yuhyun is also involving academia to research the societal cost of infollution and leading public campaigns around infollution in order to create a sense of urgency and commitment for action.
A mathematician and biostatistician by training, Yuhyun describes herself as a problem-solver. Yuhyun’s entrepreneur grandfather and businessman-turned-National Assemblyman taught her that the greatest learning comes from owning an idea and being responsible for the outcome. With a PhD in computational biology from Harvard University, she created and experimented scientific solutions to the world’s biggest problems during the height of human genome research. After completing her post-doctorate studies, Yuhyun decided to hone her “real-world” problem-solving skills and became a strategy consultant.
Working as a strategy consultant and topic content manager in digital media at Boston Consulting Group, Yuhyun saw the rapid rise in increasingly sensational and violent content produced by the media and game industries. Since becoming a mother of two children, she was startled with how easy it is for her own children to access such information through digital media. As she looked for effective and fun ways to teach her children about infollution, Yuhyun realized that most existing solutions not only ignore elementary school-age children they also do not match the global nature and reach of the problem. Yuhyun was compelled to take action and officially launched Infollution Zero in 2010.