Kids Know Clicky, Do You?
There were plenty of familiar faces milling around the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C. for the annual Easter Egg Roll. Sponge Bob, Charlie Brown and Dora the Explorer were among the cast of characters. So were Clifford the Big Red Dog and Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. But it was a bright yellow robot with a flat head, red nose and big smile who caught the attention of one little girl.
"Hey mom, there's Clicky!" the girl shouted excitedly to her mother during the 134th annual event.
"How do you know him?" her mother asked, looking quizzically at the cartoon character.
"He goes to my school!" her daughter exclaimed.
Clicky is the Internet safety spokesrobot for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's NetSmartz Workshop. He leads the cast of characters at NetSmartzKids.org, where children 5-10 learn through activities, cartoons, games and music. The program is increasingly popular with teachers and parents as concerns about Internet safety have heightened around the world.
Clicky is showing up in a lot of schools these days. He has a presence through NetSmartzKids in all 50 states and a growing number of countries, including Canada, Brazil, the U.K. and Australia.
Clicky and his animated pals Nettie and Webster use NetSmartzKids to talk to young children about how to make safer choices online and in the real world.
And the kids think he's pretty cool.
"Hi Clicky I really want to be your bff [best friend forever] and just want to know if u can come to St. Joseph School thanks text me back bye," wrote one fan.
Mike Hill, NetSmartz Workshop creative producer and the voice and inspiration of Clicky, receives more than 1,000 emails a month from children all over the world. He answers every one.
"That's my favorite part, reading those emails," said Hill. "Because it's real."
In many ways, Hill is Clicky. Hill, 34, writes Clicky's rap songs, performs Clicky's vocals and stars in Clicky's videos. He also raps in Spanish.
Hill often makes personal appearances at safety events dressed as Clicky, where he's greeted like a rock star with fist bumps and high-fives.
"It's an awesome feeling," said Hill of Clicky's growing recognition. "Kids know who he is and what he represents."
This year, Clicky and the NetSmartz Workshop partnered with the Washington Nationals, Washington, D.C.'s Major League Baseball team. Clicky scored his own Nationals jersey and distributed safety tips to kids at games. He's even been on the Jumbotrons at Nationals Park and Yankee Stadium.
Use your NetSmartz
The power of the Internet enables Hill, as Clicky, to reach children all over the world with his safety messages.
Through his work, Hill understands the many ways the Internet is used to harm kids.
The NetSmartz Workshop uses what the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children knows about these Internet crimes to help keep children safer. The program addresses issues such as sexting, gaming, video chatting and cyberbullying.
Clicky, with the assistance of a gang of Webville Outlaws, teaches children 5-10 these four rules for Internet safety:
Clicky often receives emails, at firstname.lastname@example.org, where children recite the rules they've learned back to him or ask for advice.
"She's using mean words and today she called me bucktooth can you please help me?" asked one girl who was being bullied at school by another girl.
Clicky's friends are taught to UYN (Use Your NetSmartz) and can complete an interactive adventure to earn an official NetSmartz safety certificate. Kids follow Clicky's attempt to surprise his dog, Router, for his birthday and in the process learn how to UYN.
"This man was trying to video me online what should I do?" said another fan. "I went to tell my mom and she said great job using my UYN."
Teachers also send Clicky emails, telling him what a great resource NetSmartz is and how the children love singing along to his videos, including "It's Okay to Tell," "Way 2 Go" and other videos on his playlist.
"Your website is priceless, it really captures the attention of my students. And it's free? Thank you!" said Terri Cain, a special education teacher in Minnesota. "We need to keep our kids safe in today's world. Thanks for helping us do our job in such a kid-friendly and fun way!"
Friends in high places
Clicky's reach continues to soar beyond classrooms and homes. NASA astronaut Timothy Creamer took a pennant with Clicky's picture on it when he launched into space on the Russian spacecraft, Soyuz TMA-17, in 2009.
After more than five months aboard the International Space Station, Creamer stopped by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children headquarters in Alexandria, Va., to meet Clicky and his colleagues.
Clicky also became friends with a player on Washington, D.C.'s professional football team, the Washington Redskins. Tight end Chris Cooley mistook Clicky for Gumby at training camp, where Clicky was working the crowd. Clicky respectfully responded to "Mr. Cooley" in a rap video he posted on Youtube.
This video led to a friendly rap battle between the two on ESPN SportsNation.
"I just wanted Chris to know who to talk to if he ever got in trouble online," said Clicky. "Now I'm his number one fan, and he's my number one fan."
Hill recently returned from Nashville, where he recorded some new songs for Clicky's playlist, including "Trust is a Must," which will debut soon, so stay tuned.