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Opinion | Sharon McNally, Josh Kraft, and Robert Lewis Jr.

Creating positive communities online and in our neighborhoods


Nurturing Boston’s young community leaders has always been a shared goal of Camp Harbor View, the BASE, and Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston. But today, the meaning of community stretches far beyond pavement and playgrounds to include the infinite connections of the Internet.

And that means our young leaders must harness their skills when using devices and apply them to the real world.

A recent AT&T study found that 98 percent of teens have a mobile device, and 85 percent say they spend at least three hours a day online. The data also showed that two-thirds of teens surveyed say they have engaged in at least one risky behavior online.


Clearly, connected technology plays an enormous role in our kids’ lives and holds the power to transform them, for better and worse. But how can we ensure it is the former?

Youth organizations in Boston are uniquely situated to prepare kids to do good in their communities; to stand up for each other; and to be leaders. But incorporating the online world into that message does not always come naturally. In many cases, we don’t get farther than “put your phones away.”

While we need to be cognizant of too much screen time and other connectivity dangers like cyberbullying, trolls, and the spread of false information, we think it is time to flip the script a bit and take advantage of an opportunity that is at hand.

All of us — parents, teachers, mentors, youth organizations — need to empower kids to think differently about technology and use it as a tool for positive change.

On June 5, we launched a new collaboration with AT&T aimed at equipping middle and high school students in Boston with leadership and online safety skills for the digital age.

The focus is on helping young people become digital leaders. What is a digital leader? By making positive choices online, a digital leader harnesses the power of technology to build a confident self-image; create positivity and support online; and build strong, positive, supportive communities.


AT&T, through its “Positively Digital” initiative, has provided resources, curriculum material, networking assistance in the online safety space, and financial support of nearly half a million dollars to develop individualized digital leadership programs tailored to our young members. Each program is in various stages of developing and implementing curriculum, activities, and events that encourage constructive online behavior, promote critical thinking, enhance communications skills, and inspire civic engagement.

In the coming months, kids at our organizations will, among many other things, create social media campaigns, engage in leadership training, and use their imaginative voices for good through mediums like podcasts.

Boston youth will help create new opportunities to engage with each other and their community, both online and off.

We know that in many cases, our kids are already light years ahead of us. They are already using technology in new and innovative ways to build up each other and our city. We want to highlight the good things they are already doing, while simultaneously giving them the skills and opportunities to build upon that foundation in a positive way.

Every day we see how creative, smart, confident, and kind Boston’s young people are. So many of them have the desire — and the potential — to thrive in our connected world and become a generation of digital leaders.


Sharon McNally is president of Camp Harbor View. Josh Kraft is president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston. Robert Lewis Jr. is founder and president of the BASE.