9 Lessons to Teach Children About Digital Citizenship

Everyone who uses electronic devices to go online and interact with others is participating in a digital world as a digital citizen. Just like good citizenship is important at school and work, so is good digital citizenship important when online.

Utilize this guide to have conversations with your children about digital citizenship and check out some of the tools listed to help you navigate this world.

  1. Digital Commerce
    Your children have never known a world without online shopping. Ecommerce deliveries to residential properties is the norm, and they likely have seen you make online purchases for items they need for school or sports. It is important to remind children to always ask for your permission before they hit “buy,” even if the app they are using has your credit card information on file, or they have purchased from the site previously.
  2. Digital Downtime
    Smartphones and social media have changed the lives of your children and often serve as a false substitute for human connection. Teens need to be reminded to disconnect from the digital world and spend time with friends and family face-to-face to develop critical social skills needed for adulthood. Take advantage of apps and devices meant to help parents manage screen time and limit access to apps.
  3. Digital Etiquette
    It is important that children know to treat people with respect when online, just as if they were talking to them in person. Also, teach children empathy by encouraging them to think about how the messages they write online may be received by others reading those messages. Messages sent via text or through social media can be misinterpreted. Teach your children to re-read messages before hitting send. Let them know that as their parent you are a safe resource for them, and that you are willing to proofread any messages and give them feedback. Remind children that some conversations are best communicated verbally and encourage them to use the phone or video talk features on their phones.
  4. Digital Health
    Teaching children when to stay connected and when to turn off their devices is another key component of digital citizenship. When your child texts you to pick them up from practice, they need to know to stay connected to their phone until you arrive. They also need to know that phones should be put away at certain times. Talk to them about when you expect them to put their phone aside and be fully present. Incorporate technology boundaries into your house rules so that your children know what’s expected of them, and as a parent, make sure you are modeling good digital health as well.
  5. Digital Integrity
    Children need to learn to examine the source of online information to determine credibility of the source. Teach your children to pay attention to a website’s URL. Malicious websites and email addresses often look identical to a legitimate site with just a slight variation in spelling or domain (“Amaz0n”). Sites with .edu (educational sites) or .gov (official government sites) are most credible. Sites with .biz or .info are least credible. In addition, students can look for other clues to a website’s legitimacy, such as looking for the “https” tag or checking the site’s security status. Finally, teach your children to be wary of sites that have invasive advertising or use poor spelling or grammar.
  6. Digital Literacy
    Children need to learn to avoid suspicious emails, attachments, websites, and online advertisements. Teaching children that if it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a scam, will help them analyze information and build intuition. The digital world is a rapidly changing environment and your children need to learn to use intuition to make good decisions. The Federal Trade Commission has several articles about talking with your children, protecting their online safety, as well as parental controls. As a parent, educate yourself on internet fraud, phishing, and other online scams so that you can protect your family’s personal information and promote online safety.
  7. Digital Privacy
    Privacy settings exist across most devices and platforms. Expecting your children to read the fine print before logging into new apps may be unrealistic. However, you can teach your children to use privacy settings and only share their information with people they know personally. Show your children on their devices where they can manage privacy settings. Teach them which apps truly need access to location services, access to their contact list, or integration with social profiles. Regularly review their settings with them and explain why they need to change specific settings for their digital safety.
  8. Digital Responsibility
    Just as your children have a responsibility to report bullying and harassment at school, they have that same responsibility when online. Teach your children to report cyber-bullying, abusive behavior, and inappropriate content.
  9. Digital Security
    Children often default to easy passwords such as 12345 or qwert123 so they do not forget them. It is important to teach children to use strong passwords and to change them regularly. Children should also know to change passwords if they suspect someone else knows their password or has accessed their account without permission. Strong passwords usually include at least 8 characters mixed with uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters (e.g., ! @ # $).
    Children should use strong passwords that are hard for others to guess, but easy for your children to remember. For example, mix letters and numbers, such as their school name (North Elementary School) and younger brother’s birth month and year (2/2015) becomes n0R+h/22o!5. As a parent, your children’s safety is of utmost importance to you. Teaching your children to practice safe, responsible, and legal use of technology will guide your children into being digital citizens that are positively impacting the digital world.

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