James Steyer followed in family footsteps advocating for kids

Born and raised in New York City, James Steyer traces his interest in children's education back to his mother, who was a schoolteacher in Harlem and the South Bronx.

After he graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, he volunteered to work with his mother as a teacher at a high school for disadvantaged students in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. He later became a civil rights lawyer, but never stopped teaching.

Instead, he's spent his time at Stanford University as a professor, teaching civil rights and civil liberties to some big-name students. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Susan Rice and Chelsea Clinton have all benefitted from Steyer's knowledge.

Steyer, 58, is founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that helps families and educators make smart choices with media and technology. It's in this position that Steyer also "teaches" -- educating and advocating for many more students than one classroom would allow.

"The breadth of information Common Sense provides on the impact of media and technology on kids' health and development is a tremendous resource for parents, educators and policymakers," Steyer said.

Common Sense Media, founded in 2003, offers the world's largest library of age-based ratings and reviews of all types of content targeted at kids. The easily-accessible reviews provide easy-to-follow color codes for age-appropriate media, so parents can quickly decide if a TV show, video game or movie is right for their child. Common Sense Media also works with partners who distribute their ratings and reviews, including Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, DirecTV, Hulu, Netflix and Amazon.

Common Sense's curriculum and tools are used in more than 89,000 schools in the United States. Common Sense has partnered with Los Angeles Unified School District to provide schools with tools such as its K-12 Digital Literacy and Citizenship curriculum, which aims to teach kids what it means to be smart and responsible digital citizens. The goal is to help students learn how to think critically, participate responsibly and behave safely with technology.

"Media and technology are at the very center of all our lives today -- especially our children's," Steyer said. "Kids today spend over 50 hours on screen time every week. The media content they consume and create has a profound impact on their social, emotional, cognitive and physical development."

Learning how to use media and technology wisely is an essential skill for life and learning in the 21st century, he said.

"But parents, teachers and policymakers struggle to keep up with the rapidly changing digital world in which our children live and learn," Steyer said. "Now more than ever, they need a trusted guide to help them navigate a world where change is the only constant."

Common Sense Media is also expanding Common Sense Kids Action, an advocacy program aimed at making kids and education the nation's top priority.

"The work we do is incredibly far ranging but it has a very distinct impact on all types of communities, parents, educators and kids in the U.S.," Steyer said. "There are so many groundbreaking ways we're shaping the next generation and that work directly improves the daily lives of children."

Last month, Steyer met with political strategists at the White House and key legislators to discuss making kids a priority.

"With Kids Action, Common Sense is expanding its national and state efforts to ensure that all kids have a powerful and independent voice advocating on their behalf," he said.

-Alicia Doyle, Tribune Content Solutions

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