By now you’ve probably heard the term “digital citizenship” batted around, especially when it comes to kids and technology. But what is it exactly? And why should you care?
Well, there’s The Matrix scenario… But perhaps more realistically, you should care because your kids are growing up digitally and will likely interact with the digital world in some capacity on most days of their lives. It’s probably a good idea for them to know how to function as positive, thoughtful, productive, creative, kind humans in said world, no?
Think back to that “good citizenship” award you may have received in elementary school. You know, the one you got for showing that you valued education, participated in your community, listened, asked questions, stood up for others and learned how to politely disagree. Being a good citizen is all about contributing to the good of society, maybe even making it a bit better for future generations.
Lay on the digital and boom: You have digital citizenship.
Being a good digital citizen means being a responsible one: educating yourself and your kids about the digital world, participating in it in positive ways, questioning it and using technology as a tool to make the world a bit brighter (and not in some post-apocalyptic-neon-shroom-cloud way).
How do kids learn digital citizenship? The same way they learn how to be good citizens: They watch good role models, and they practice. As a mom, I try to be one of those role models and give them opportunities to practice, with, admittedly, a pretty tight leash. I do the best I can. I make mistakes. Sometimes, I’m annoying. Sometimes, I need help finding the right resources.
Not sure where to start with digital citizenship? The important thing is to start somewhere. Here are three tools that work for me.
Common Sense Media
My go-to for all things digital literacy and kids is likely your best starting point. While most of its info is geared toward teachers, its eight main topics help me guide my kids in using the internet as responsibly as they can.
Do I hit on all of these with my kids? No. They’re five and seven. I try, in my ceaseless, annoying way, to talk about internet safety, relationships and communication, digital footprint, and reputation. The rest? I use Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship Resources for the Home. Its five key talking points are spot-on.
- Be kind
- Keep things private
- Don’t believe everything you see
- Don’t overshare
- Stand up for others
I like these because they’re helpful guidelines for general decency on or offline, and Common Sense Media does a nice job breaking down how to talk to preschool through high school age kids. There’s also a cool printable download. When we’re sitting around looking at stuff online, I come back to these talking points repeatedly.
Of all the concepts on this list, oversharing is perhaps the hardest to teach kids, mostly because they’re constantly taught that being kind means sharing and that sharing is, ostensibly, a good thing. My children, overachievers both, think that if sharing is good, then too much sharing is better. Not quite.
I explain it this way: “It’s OK to share a favorite book with a friend, right? But it’s not OK to share all of your favorite books all at once, is it? Too many books all at once! Your friend won’t know what to look at first!”
“But I don’t share books on the internet!” they say.
“No, of course not. The point is this: Don’t share too much all at once. Ever. Online or in person. If you’re ever confused about how much is too much, ask me.”
And you know what? They do. They also like talking about the differences between online and in person, which are good conversations to start now, during all this supervised internet time.
Common Sense Media also offers some helpful Family Engagement Resources that feature great videos and articles on ways to encourage positive digital citizenship at home — everything from using a cell phone responsibly to combating cyberbullying.
Check out its razor-sharp ratings for apps, games, movies and television too!