How to Teach Kids Digital Citizenship at Home

How to teach kids digital citizenship at home

I was the typical first-time mom with my firstborn—I pureed food he refused to eat, used cloth diapers, disinfected anything that touched the ground, and tried my hand at sign language. I remember lamenting the fact that my one-year-old would not watch the baby sign language videos I diligently checked out from the library. He showed zero interest in them. Fast-forward a few years, and he is all over any video or technology I put in front of him. He loves watching shows to learn about animals and their “creature power” natural defenses. Gone are the days where he is unimpressed by a video. Now begins the era of the tug-of-war standoff between how much screen time and technology use is appropriate—and how much is inevitable.

I am a proud technology user. I live an ocean away from family and friends, so technology has made it easy for me to stay connected with them. For my children, videos spark conversations and give a glimpse into worlds previously unknown. All those are good ways to use technology, but I have caught myself getting sucked into the never-ending refresh of my Facebook news feed while I should have been doing something I had planned for the day. I recognize the potential and challenges that emerge with every new app or technological invention on the market, so the question is: How can I use technology responsibly, and teach my children to use it wisely as well?

What Is Digital Citizenship?

In my search to understand how to monitor technology use within my family, I discovered a new buzz term to describe responsible technology use: digital citizenship. When users of technology have appropriate and responsible behavior when using technology, they are being good digital citizens. In general, a digital citizen:

  • Knows the rules and expectations for technology use.
  • Respects themselves and others.
  • Balances the time they spend online and using media with other activities, like reading a book.
  • Reports cyberbullying to parents and school officials.

Okay, now I know what experts are saying about technology use and how I can manage my time, but how do I help my children understand that they should not spend the summer or school vacations watching TV all day? As with any new tool or topic, children need guidance to fully understand expectations. Having conversations about appropriate behavior while using digital tools will help your child take ownership of their actions while using those tools. Even though children are not face-to-face with someone while using technology, they may still interact with people online or produce creative products that others may see. Digital citizens are mindful and sensitive of how people will respond to their digital footprint, or behavior with technology.

Teaching Your Child About Digital Citizenship

Here are some steps to help educate your family about digital citizenship:

  1. Review the definition of digital citizenship and discuss examples and non-examples. You can make this into a fun game with silly examples to get them out of their seats and talking about the examples.
  2. Brainstorm words that can be kind and helpful online and talk about hurtful language that should not be used online. It’s hard to know how someone feels when they’re not in front of you – but that doesn’t mean our words have no impact.
  3. Discuss keeping private information private, like passwords, addresses, and phone numbers.
  4. Set expectations for digital use in the home. I’ve found that intertwining this conversation with other things they’ll miss out on if they spend all their time with the iPad or a video is helpful.
  5. Consider writing expectations down and have everyone in the house sign it as a visual reminder of their pledge to follow to those expectations. When the family agrees and everyone is on a united front, the goals you set will be easier to follow. Agreed-upon “No Social Media” days are always the ones where I connect more with my family and relax more!
  6. Remember to frequently review responsible and respectful behavior for technology use. It’s easy to forget the goals you set with your child or family, so reviewing the goals will be helpful for maintaining them.

Check out this Digital Citizenship Pledge that you can share with your child during your conversations.

For more information, see these websites:

By Jennifer Sobalvarro, who has experience teaching in 3rd and 5th grade classrooms as well as ELL instruction.

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