Teaching Our Kids to Be Awesome People Online
By Jenny Johnson
When I was a kid, I remember jumping across the bed to hit the record button on my boom box so I could tape my favorite song from the radio. I had to wait for my film to be developed when I took any pictures with my Kodak camera. If I wanted to talk to a friend, I had to call them (and most likely speak to their parents) and was ecstatic the day my parents gave me my own phone line.
But it’s different now.
Our kids have access to music and videos through YouTube. They don’t have to talk to their friends because they can text or comment on social media posts. Pictures are taken and shared immediately to a Cloud. And this can all be done at their fingertips through a smartphone.
Our children have been born into a generation of technology. They seem to know every new app, device, and website and can learn to maneuver their way through any computer system. They are two steps ahead, and I can’t seem to keep up with them.
In the past, I have panicked at the thought of them sharing too much, seeing too much, and wasting too much time.
Then I heard about digital citizenship.
“Digital citizenship is the ability to participate safely, intelligently, productively, and responsibly in the digital world (DigCitUtah, 2017).” It is using the internet with purpose to help connect with the world and encourage creativity but doing so in an honest, safe, and secure manner.
Digital citizenship is an integral part of teaching children how to maneuver the internet. It prepares them for what to do when someone asks for personal information. It teaches them to cite sources to prevent plagiarizing. It reduces risk for cyberbullying and helps promote a positive footprint in a virtual world. Helping them understand digital citizenship also promotes media literacy which enables them to be a wise customer and deliberate message user (DigCitUtah, 2017).
So How Do We Start Teaching Digital Citizenship in Our Homes? Here are some simple principles to get you started.
Once something has been posted to the internet, it is permanent. It can be copied and shared within seconds without knowledge or approval. Children are sharing content that is affecting their future employment and even college acceptance potential. More and more businesses are looking at online profiles and social media and basing a person’s acceptance to a company on their social media footprint. Personal relationships are being affected by status and photo updates. As soon as your kids are old enough to post any information or create any account (as young as kindergarten) you can start teaching this to your child (Internet Society.org, n.d.).
Teach your kids to be kind. Discuss with your kids the need to consistently post about themselves and others in a positive way. That way, their profile and their digital footprint trail will portray a more honest persona that reflects their true self.
Teach your kids to self-monitor. While we can find apps to help us monitor our children’s internet and technology usage, it is necessary to teach them how to monitor themselves.
One of the most difficult things for children to understand is that there are real people on the other side of the screen. Pictures are being copied and distributed without consent. Children are becoming victims or even bullies by using media to abuse or harass their peers without understanding the severity or impact of the words they are typing.
Teach your kids what is okay to share and what is not. There are obvious things that should not be shared like a last name, age, and address. But children and teens are eager to share seemingly small or innocent details of their day. Or they may feel the need to vent about a troublesome situation. Kids (and adults) need to understand that they don’t need to share everything online. Not every lovely dessert, party, beach trip, or friend drama needs to be photographed and documented on social media. Oversharing can be embarrassing in the least and dangerous in the most extreme.
Remind them to think before they post. Teach your children to ask themselves questions before posting. Will this post be offensive or hurtful to anyone? Does this portray me or others negatively? Does it share any personal information? Is the picture appropriate? And when all else fails, have them check with you if they need a second opinion.
Continually encourage them to search for ways to inspire and motivate others! Teach kids to share encouraging words, post positive affirmations, and be the good that others look toward. Remember, what is shared online is permanent. Teach them to make it represent their best self.
The internet is an amazing tool for school, work, personal management, and socializing for our youth today. It’s essential to our world and isn’t going away. Teaching responsible digital citizenship is something that needs to be continually reinforced because technology is constantly changing. It’s not a one time conversation. Every day there are new apps to communicate with, new pictures to post, and new tweets to share. It is our responsibility to make sure our children are using the internet safely and responsibly while also encouraging creativity and engagement.
Teaching digital citizenship can help children maintain their honesty, integrity, and safety in real and virtual life.
Need help with digital citizenship? Look for our children’s book this coming fall! You can also check out our book 30 Days to a Stronger Child for help on how to build an emotionally strong and socially confident child, or download our free lesson Using Technology for Good to teach your children how to use the internet in a positive way.
Or Check out Conversations with My Kids: 30 Essential Family Discussions for the Digital Age–A simple, super-helpful guide that gives YOU the words to talk about tough, timely topics of today (like racism, integrity, agency, healthy sexuality, LGBTQI issues, social media, and more).
Jennifer Johnson is an intern for Educate and Empower Kids and is working towards a degree in Marriage and Family Studies from Brigham Young University – Idaho. She is active in her community and has volunteered in her local school district as a noon duty aide, school site safety council representative, and PTO President. Jennifer was born and raised in Southern California where she currently lives with her husband and three sons.
Home. (2017, June 08). Retrieved August 27, 2017, from http://digcitutah.com/
Scott, A. (2017, February 04). What Have We Gained-and Lost- through Technology? Retrieved August 20, 2017, from https://educateempowerkids.org/what-have-we-gained-and-lost-through-technology