Beyond Pencils

Back to blog

Humble Media Genius, Keeping Kids Safe

November 24, 2015

If you saw my earlier Smarter Schools post you’ll maybe recall that I’m a writer and producer at WGBH in Boston. We have a new project for kids to help them navigate their always-connected world. You can find some background here or the actual project here, in the shape of an animated dog, Ruff Ruffman: Humble Media Genius.

My current focus has been around safety and privacy. As part of our production pipeline, this is the topic we have been trying to address in a new animation. We’ve also been exploring Search, Texting, Screen Time, Photography and even Distracted Driving. We turned to privacy as a topic because we want kids to take advantage of the internet but, as teachers and parents, we also must ask what it takes to keep them safe online.

The privacy issues that surface around technology use are many, and so in choosing what to address for our audience of tweens, we necessarily focus on some and ignore others.  (We feel there’s plenty of time as they get older - and their internet use gets more sophisticated - to address these other topics.)

I have been working with the Youth and Media group at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society to adapt a curriculum that they have been developing for older students, aging it down to keep it age-appropriate (and suitable for PBS KIDS where this content resides.) We’ve settled on addressing these topics:

  • Don’t share passwords
  • Don’t share information you wouldn’t want others to ever see
  • Images can share private information
  • Don’t answer texts from unknown numbers

And so, without giving away spoilers, we’ve placed our lead character under a dunk tank operated by his grandma as she quizzes him about these topics, in a gameshow entitled, “Grandma Ruffman Dumps Water On Her Grandson’s Head If He Gets An Answer Wrong.”

The videos will be distributed online and through the PBS KIDS free video app with supporting online content for kids and parents staged at the main Humble Media Genius website. This will also be available for teachers at the PBS LearningMedia along with all the others.

And that’s about it. It will take whole array of partners and production companies in four cities, and two countries to develop these videos, but we hope that at the end of the day, our kids are better equipped to enjoy the internet safely - at school or out in their connected world.

Bill Shribman is an EMMY-winning producer who creates digital games, apps and animation for children at WGBH in Boston. Creator of a popular media literacy project, Ruff Ruffman: Humble Media Genius for PBS KIDS, he has also overseen digital work at WGBH on properties from ARTHUR to Curious George to ZOOM. His TED-X and TED-Ed videos can be found online. He is part of the extended family that is Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society and he also blogs at where he has written about Finland, poison, and food processors.