What is digital citizenship?
When the internet was first introduced to the public very few people could imagine how much society would come to depend on the network for communication, work and school. It was especially unexpected that a global pandemic would force us to transfer the few analog systems we have left into an online format. Now more than ever is the time to talk about digital citizenship.
Put simply, digital citizenship is defined as the impact one has through their actions online. Online as in real life people can be categorized into responsible and irresponsible citizens depending on how they utilize the internet. We see this nearly every day with the uptick in internet personalities being “canceled” for harmful content including that which promotes racist, sexist, and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. Words have actions and actions have consequences. The digital world is no exception.
Why is digital citizenship important?
Social media, while a major part of our lives today is a fairly new concept in the grand scheme of things. With the internet having been around for almost three decades, most Americans have served as pioneers of the online world creating a digital presence without much guidance or education on how to do so properly. Consequently, a disturbingly large number of Americans have posted, shared, or sent something they now regret.
A 2015 study showed that 20% of respondents who reported social media regrets were millennials, the first generation to have grown up online. These children didn’t have the advantage of learning the dos and don’ts of cyberlife from their elders. Instead many learned about the dangers of cybersecurity, digital footprints, and the permanence of internet content too late to undo their mistakes.
Now we’ve finally reached a point where parents can teach their children proper internet etiquette based on years of experience, rules, and examples. This has not come a moment too soon as schools everywhere remain shut down in favor of an entirely online structure. The continuation of remote learning in the fall is a very disappointing development for many families. However, there is a silver lining where children have an outlet to practice good digital citizenship on a daily basis.
Schools have recognized this opportunity with one Texas institution providing students with an infographic of guidelines for their online classes. Among these guidelines are interacting positively with other users, avoiding the release of private information, and regularly changing passwords for security purposes. Of course infographics only go so far in preventing what some refer to as a “cyber-pandemic”, a term which refers to the heightened risk children face from online threats.
According to the Child Safety Index which includes data from 30 countries around the world, 60% of children face daily cyberthreats such as cyberbullying, inappropriate content, and interaction with dangerous individuals. With all of these dangers out there let’s look at some ways to help children avoid the obvious pitfalls.
1. Keep your child’s digital footprint small
Assuming your child has the advantage of a clean slate when it comes to social media, take extra care to ensure that the digital footprint they’re about to develop is as small as possible. Monitor the amount of personal information they put online and pay attention to the sites they are using as many collect information about their users.
2. Reduce your own digital footprint
You probably have a digital footprint of your own that you’ve built up over the course of many years. Take the time to backtrack and find out how much of you is really out there. Maybe you have old email and social media accounts that you can deactivate or old posts that are better off deleted. Just like in the real world, being a responsible citizen positively impacts your child and gives them a clean slate to develop their own presence in the digital world.
3. Guide Your Child Through (With Some Help)
You want to do your best to monitor what young children are doing online. Unregulated screen time can quickly lead to disaster. Keep track of who they’re interacting with and how they are spending their time. Developers know how excruciating this process can be which is why there are a multitude of online resources available to help you protect your child in the digital world.
Where Can I Go For Help?
- Be Internet Awesome– This interactive experience by Google allows kids to practice online etiquette through a series of games and puzzles. They learn the dos and don’ts and learn to navigate scenarios that they will most certainly face in their future as internet users.
- Common Sense Education– Common Sense Education’s digital citizenship program is a series of free lessons designed for K-12 students. The program is broken up by age group so students can learn about situations that apply to them.
- Bark– This award winning app was designed based on research from psychology, media, and law enforcement experts as well as youth advisors. It remotely monitors your child’s texts, emails, and social media and provides and alerts you of any potential problems. Bark is a certified way to keep tabs on your child without invading their privacy on a regular basis. Instead of reading their emails, Bark reads them for you and only involves you if/when a situation arises.
- Digital Citizenship App– Aimed at middle and high school students this app contains a curriculum revolving around cybersecurity and digital etiquette.
- Family link– This service provided by Google allows you to monitor your child’s screen time. You are given the ability to approve app downloads and in-app purchases as well as guide them towards appropriate content.
- Qustodio– This free app informs you of how much time kids spend on particular apps and websites. With qustodio you are able to set your own limits in addition to the app’s built in content filter
- Child Friendly Social Media– Facebook has taken it upon themselves to provide a new version of their messenger app designed specifically for underage users. Messenger Kids is just one of many social media outlets aimed at children which feature extra protection from cyber threats.