One day in May 2012, I saw a wonderful piece on Huff Post about visiting 92 year old Pete Seeger by the children’s musician and child advocate Raffi. Both of these men are great heroes of mine and have been instrumental in Benj’s development. Pete Seeger is perhaps one of the 10 most influential figures in my life- his songs filled my childhood, he is a moral lodestar for me, I wrote much of The Anti-Romantic Child while listening to his music. Dr G., Benj’s beloved therapist who first evaluated him when he was almost 3, initially told us to buy Raffi DVDs and CDs because she thought they might help us engage with Benj via music and teach him about social exchange. Benj and I watched A Children’s Concert with Raffi every single day for months during his first stretch in therapy. Richard and I played Raffi’s CD “Let’s Play” during all our drives to and from the Yale Child Study Center for Benj’s evaluation sessions in May of 2002 (so baby James heard the music too before he emerged a month later). Raffi’s DVDs and CDs were the nurturing and inspiring soundtrack of Benj’s early years in therapy, I sang Baby Beluga to both boys every night for years, and Raffi is one of the people I admire most in this world for his talent, humanity, generosity of spirit, courage, and unwavering commitment to the well-being of children.
I shared the Huff Post piece on my author page on Facebook and clicked on a link to follow Raffi on Twitter. The next day, to my great surprise and delight, Raffi started following me and tweeted a recent newspaper article about me to his followers and then to me with the following note: “Very Moving. Love it. Would be a Joy to meet you one day.” Let’s just say that that was a joyful day in our household with lots of happy shrieks from Benj and James!
Although we have not yet met, Raffi and I have since become fast online friends and mutual supporters. He has a new and important book just out called Lightweb Darkweb: Three Reasons To Reform Social Media Before It Re-Forms Us. I recently interviewed Raffi about the book and about his commitment to honoring children and making the world a safer and more nurturing place for them. Comment on our interview below to be entered into a drawing to win a signed copy of his book!
1) Why did you decide to write this book? What do you hope to achieve with it?
I wrote Lightweb Darkweb in response to the suicide of Amanda Todd, a 15 year old who’d been tormented for two years on Facebook by a sexual predator out to blackmail her. Young user safety is the #1 reason why we need SM reform. I hope this book fills readers with a sense of urgency on the need to protect young people online, and that there’s much we can do about this. I hope the book deepens the discourse on the digital revolution and its impacts on kids, families and society. InfoTech’s intrusion on child development needs consideration.
2) What are some of the benefits of social media and the information super highway?
The benefits of what I call the Lightweb are well known. We love connecting with people worldwide quickly and easily in a number of text ways, as well as by real time audio & video. We can share electronically documents of various sizes with one person or many at a time. Businesses can get place their products & services before a wide audience. The world’s libraries are at our fingertips. Distance learning is a boon for many. We can use social media for good.
3) Tell us a little about the Three Good Reasons you give to reform social media?
SAFETY is the first reason for reform: not only young user safety, but also for all of us whose privacy has been eroded.
INTELLIGENCE is another key reason for reform: Net dependence & addiction are on the rise as ever younger kids are allowed to ‘play’ with expensive ‘shiny tech’ devices made for adult use. Emotional intelligence and societal intelligence are affected.
SUSTAINABILITY is the third reason for SM reform. The ecology of InfoTech is an eye-opener that makes you realize the electronics industry must reform its toxic mining practices, device assembly conditions, and disposal practices.
That’s why, under current conditions, the cost of enjoying the Lightweb is too high. With reforms we can subdue the Darkweb and thus truly optimize the Lightweb.
4) What are three things every parent can do immediately to make the web safer for their children?
First, educate yourself on the SM privacy settings; read this book, with your teenager if possible. Secondly, have a family SM policy, as I outline in the book; this includes limited screen time, no devices at the dinner table, etc. Thirdly, visit www.redhoodproject.com and sign the Open Letter to Facebook that I co-wrote, urging Safety By Design changes by this multi-billion dollar company that talks a lot but does little for user safety.
5) What are some things that lawmakers can do to make the web safer for children?
Lawmakers can bring social media into the same regulatory framework that applies to all conventional media. Verified user ID is needed to avert torment by anonymity that is currently all too frequent & easy online. Sexually explicit websites should not be available to those under 18 years of age. Sexting by minors should be prosecuted under existing child pornography laws; parents & kids need to understand the consequences of such actions. Police officers need to take chronic online tormenting cases seriously.
6) What are some of your favorite recent books about parenting and children?
Most of my reading while writing this book has been about the effects of the internet and social media. Lightweb Darkweb has a bilbiography which includes some of my favourites, such as:
Mark Bauerlein, ed. The Digital Divide: Arguments for and against Facebook, Google, Texting, and the Age of Social Networking. New York:
Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. New York: Norton, 2010.
Morozov, Evgeny. The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom
Rushkoff, Douglas. Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now
Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.
Also worthy of mention:
Axness, Marcy. Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers.
Linn, Susan. Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood.
Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth. Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children
7) Who inspires you? (public figures, historical personages, people in your life, even fictional characters)
Martin Luther King Jr, Jane Goodall, Nelson Mandela, The Dalai Lama.
8) What is your motto?
Respecting Earth & Child is the slogan of my Centre For Child Honouring: www.childhonouring.org
9) What is your favorite song you ever wrote and why?
“Baby Beluga,” my best known-song (I’m told) gives much joy; it’s a metaphor for a love of beauty and swimming in the spirit of one’s true nature.
10) What are your goals and aspirations for the rest of your career? more music, touring, books, social justice and advocacy work?
All I do is for joy and sustenance, for the greatest good of the greatest number.
I look forward to more concerts, songs, CDs, books and continued advocacy for social justice—the duty of every conscious citizen. I look forward to the day when Safety By Design will be the hallmark of a reformed and enlightened Social Media industry.
I’d love to inspire “beluga grads” to answer the call to shine their light for a more humane and socially conscious Lightweb.
11) How would you like to be remembered?
For my love of children, as someone who cared for the human family.
Follow Raffi online at
Raffi Cavoukian is known to millions simply as Raffi, a renowned Canadian singer once called “the most popular children’s singer in the western world” (Washington Post).
Raffi was a pioneer in music for children and families, bringing quality music to children with respect for their age and growing minds. Parents and educators embraced his music and his CDs, tapes, videos, and DVDs sold over 14 million copies in Canada and the US, and his books, more than 3 million copies. A generation saw him in concert and grew up singing Down by the Bay and Raffi’s signature song Baby Beluga. “Beluga grads” often tell him they’re now raising their own kids with his songs.
In his three-decade music career, Raffi refused all commercial endorsement offers, and his triple-bottom-line company never directly advertised or marketed to children. He is a passionate advocate for a child’s right to live free of commercial exploitation.
In the 1990’s Raffi turned his attention more fully towards global issues of sustainability and for his work has been recognized with many awards including the Order of Canada and the United Nations’ Earth Achievement Award, among others.
Raffi’s years of working with children and educators has evolved into a philosophy that we all can apply to help create a viable future: a restorative, child-friendly world for ourselves and for those to come.
Raffi is Founder and Chair of the Centre for Child Honouring on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, which serves as an education hub for the advancement of Child Honouring as a universal ethic. www.childhonouring.org. In the anthology Child Honouring: How To Turn This World Around, co-edited by Raffi, foreword by the Dalai Lama—luminaries from a number of disciplines join the call for a new covenant with the world’s children.