How Parents Can Raise Smart Digital Citizens
Do you think of yourself as a good digital citizen, navigating the online world safely and respectfully? As a parent or Learning Coach, do you know how to effectively help your student become a responsible digital citizen?
In an online environment that’s evolving by the nanosecond, it’s not as simple as just teaching the golden rule. So, in honor of Digital Citizenship Week (October 16–October 22), we’d like to share some information and resources that can help.
Defining Digital Citizenship
Merriam-Webster defines citizenship as “the qualities that a person is expected to have as a responsible member of a community.” What are those qualities? At a minimum, they include practicing basic civility in our daily interactions, understanding our rights and responsibilities under the law, respecting the rights and property of others, and contributing to the life and health of the community.
Practicing Civility Online
According to a nationwide poll, Civility in America 2014, the vast majority of Americans believe incivility in the United States has reached crisis proportions and that the Internet and social media are largely to blame for this. A majority also believe that uncivil behavior is leading to an increase in violence in our country.
As members of an online community, we can help transform this troubling landscape by:
- Making sure our students know and practice the basic rules of netiquette.
- Teaching them to respond safely and effectively to cyberbullies.
- Encouraging them to pause before they post on social media, asking first, “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”
We can also challenge our students to “post positive,” which means sharing words of support and kindness to friends on a daily basis.
Understanding Your Rights: Protecting Your Privacy and Reputation
Did you know that 40% of college admissions officers check applicants’ social media profiles when making admissions decisions? Or that these “digital footprints” are permanent?
As digital citizens, we have the right to protect our privacy and the obligation to protect our friends’ privacy.
Here are a few basic rules that parents, Learning Coaches, and students alike should follow to protect their privacy, reputations, and friendships:
- Activate the privacy settings on all of your social media accounts, restricting access only to friends and family.
- Never share your address, phone number, birth date, or Social Security number on social networking sites.
- Never share your passwords with friends.
- Don’t post photos of your friends or tag them without their permission.
- Never post anything, anywhere that you wouldn’t want your parents to see.
Check out this music video from Common Sense Media for a quick, memorable way of explaining the dangers of oversharing information online.
Respecting the Rights and Property of Others
Have you ever downloaded a song or movie without paying for it individually or as part of a subscription service like Netflix? Have you ever posted a photo or piece of art without giving credit to the creator of the work? Most of us have. In many cases, it’s wrong, risky, and possibly illegal. Here’s why:
- According to the entertainment industry, our economy loses billions of dollars each year due to digital piracy, the illegal downloading of music, video, and literary work. That translates to fewer jobs for US workers and lost income for the artists who create that work.
- Peer-to-peer sharing sites, the go-to source for illegal downloads, are common sources for viruses, identity theft, malware, and spyware—that “free” song or movie may cost you far more than you think.
- Downloading copyrighted materials without permission is in violation of the U. S. Copyright Act, and doing so could result in criminal prosecution if done for commercial purposes or personal financial gain. Consider talking to your students about the importance of respecting others’ creative work, and make sure to practice what you teach.
Contributing to Your Online Community
Have you ever reposted an article or rumor on social media without ensuring its accuracy or verifying it came from a safe, reputable source? Are you unsure how to evaluate the trustworthiness of websites?
When you share information in your online community, you have a responsibility to make sure that information is accurate and fair. Here are some pointers from Common Sense Media that can help you evaluate information sources:
- Check the extension on the website address. An address ending in .edu or .gov means the site belongs to an educational or governmental organization and is usually a reputable source of information.
- Check whether the site has been updated recently. If not, look for other sites that may have more up-to-date information.
- Be especially cautious about sites with ads that appear to target young audiences. Pop-up ads may indicate a site is unsafe or unreliable.
- Cross-check facts and figures with other websites and resources. Wikipedia may be a starting point, but it should never be your sole source of information.
- Verify that the author or organization publishing the information or website has the requisite expertise to address the subject matter.
You should also pay attention to websites’ use of logic and grammar. If the site is careless with words, it may also be careless with facts.
Today, we are all digital citizens—ready or not. We each share responsibility for creating a safe, respectful online environment. So let’s all do our part to protect that environment by showing our students how to be good digital citizens. The online skills and safe practices children learn will help them make wise decisions about digital communications and contribute to future success in education and career. Together, we can co-create an online world where we can all live, learn, and thrive.
Share these tips with your students and then post your own tips in the comments below.