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The Digital Divide at home: How Connected Nation helps bridge the gap in digital literacy by encouraging teens to share their tech skills

Fort Campbell, Kentucky (May 18, 2023) — It’s 10:30 on a school night, and Olivia and her mom have been struggling for hours to submit a school project online. A third grader, Olivia has been home sick for the last two weeks, so her assignment needs to be turned in electronically — before midnight.

For many of Olivia’s classmates, something like this wouldn’t be such a struggle. Their parents have used computers for most of their adult lives. Unlike them, Olivia’s mother didn’t go to college. She has been a stay-at-home parent for all of Olivia’s life, spending her days raising Olivia and her four siblings. Her mom never had to learn how to use a computer. There has been no need — until tonight.

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Unfortunately for Olivia and her mom, nights like these are only the beginning. This family has a hard road ahead as the world they live in continues to advance by leaps and bounds thanks to technology. Soon, computers, tablets, and phones will be the only way to do just about any daily task, and for families like Olivia’s, this is a terrifying reality.

A few states over, Mr. Marlin, a 73-year-old man, is suffering from severe arthritis. A widower, he lives alone with no family nearby to help him get around. Recently, he has been feeling ill, but the idea of coordinating a ride to his doctor’s office is so overwhelming, he has put off making an appointment.

During his last visit, his doctor introduced him to telehealth options, but Mr. Marlin has little to no computer skills. He knows he needs to seek treatment, but how? This proud, hard-working man has no idea where to begin and couldn’t feel more lost than he does at this exact moment.

These are two of countless untold stories from families throughout the nation. It seems unbelievable, right? We aren’t in a third-world country. This is the United States. Things like computers, the internet, and smartphones have been essential parts of our culture for the last two decades. Are there really adults in our communities who don’t have basic technical skills? The simple answer is: Yes.

Connectivity is just a start

According to a 2018 study by the U.S. Department of Education. roughly 28% of Americans in their 30s and 40s were considered digitally illiterate. And that was BEFORE the pandemic. Now, the gap in digital literacy is not only greater but more prevalent than ever.

Everyday tasks like applying for jobs, scheduling doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, and simply connecting with peers and family are incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for adults without basic digital skills. And what’s worse, most of those caught in this literacy gap are too ashamed of their deficits to seek out help. Where would they even start?

Connected Nation (CN) has been a leader in getting people connected for decades — working to ensure everyone has equal access to reliable internet. But, like the examples mentioned above, connectivity means little if a user doesn’t know how to use the resource.

That’s where CN’s new initiative, Teens Teach Tech, comes into play. This grant-funded program is filling a critical need by encouraging today’s tech-savvy youth to make their mark in their communities. Their skills are needed to change the narrative in stories like Oliva’s and Mr. Marlin’s, and Teens Teach Tech wants to help them make an impact.

What is Teens Teach Tech?

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This innovative program was developed using content provided by the Public Library Association (PLA) and is powered by AT&T. Its gives 9th through 12th graders across the United States the opportunity to harness their ever-growing technical skills to educate and improve the lives of the adults around them through youth-led workshops. As a bonus, youth participating in the program earn community service hours for their efforts.

CN works with teams of two or more teens, helping them to find the communities within their area that are most in need of support. Teams develop creative projects on topics including computer basics, cybersecurity, internet basics, navigating email, web conferencing, and/or mobile device basics, all designed to improve the technology skills of their community members.

This initiative is working to identify communities with the greatest knowledge deficits and empower youth to bridge those gaps. Teams receive financial incentives for their hard work in addition to service hours, and most importantly, teen participants complete their workshops knowing they helped change someone’s life for the better.

The technical advances in the world around us aren’t slowing down. By taking advantage of the Teens Teach Tech program in their community, youth all over the nation can help bring the adults in their life up to speed.

To learn more about starting a Teens Teach Tech team in your community, visit Pay special attention to the amazing summer campaign running from June 15 to August 31!

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About the Author: Jessica Golson is the Connected Nation Outreach Coordinator. Jessica assists with the growth and development of new programs, develops and maintains community relationships, and helps to foster and recognize new growth opportunities for Connected Nation.