Engaging Every Student
October 20, 2020
Raising and Educating Digital Citizens: A Joint Partnership Between Caregivers and Educators
Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov
This week’s guest blog post was written by Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov. Elizabeth is an international speaker, author, and consultant on internet safety, digital parenting and digital family wellness. She founded Digital Parenting Consulting, which provides advisory services to the Council of Europe, UNICEF and e-Enfance, as well as provides support services to Internet Matters, the UK Safer Internet Centre and the Family Online Safety institute. She also founded DigitalParentingCoach.com, a website which provides resources for parents and caregivers, and she is host of the free, private, Facebook Group, The Digital Parenting Community. She has written several publications on digital parenting.
Children and young people today live in a rapidly-changing technological landscape with expanding horizons, seemingly limitless frontiers, and unparalleled opportunities. The internet, social media and technology have brought us many new experiences—as well as a whole new dimension of being “online.” It’s essential that children and young people (as well as their parents, caregivers, teachers and educators) have the critical understanding necessary to confront the challenges posed by digital technologies and internet, as well as to benefit from a wide range of its opportunities.
The state of being able to navigate the digital environment safely and responsibly is sometimes called “digital citizenship,” and rather than attribute this educational task to caregivers only or educators only, I propose that we treat the challenge of raising and educating digital citizens as a joint partnership between caregivers and educators.
How can we define digital citizenship?
Common Sense Media defines digital citizenship as the ability to use technology competently, and to interpret and understand digital content. Mike Ribble, the creator of the Nine Elements of digital citizenship, adds that digital citizenship is our set of norms for appropriate, responsible behavior in regard to technology use.
It is also crucial to understand that digital citizenship does not just affect one child’s personal safety, but applies to the digital environment of all technology users alike. For example, a student may understand how to protect their own privacy and personal information online, but they must learn to extend those protections and respect to other students as well.
True digital citizenship means that all users of technology—internet, social media, online games and more—can enjoy the benefits and opportunities of their online activities, without causing undue risk to their own welfare and safety and to that of others.
Why is digital citizenship so important today?
Children and young people are online in increasing numbers today. With this increased activity comes a need for knowledge on how to stay safe online, how to critically think online, and how to be responsible online. These online citizenship skills follow the same basic rules as good citizenship in the offline world: being kind, being respectful, and being responsible.
Furthermore, digital citizenship empowers children to better understand online risks and to be able to act accordingly, whether a risk involves cyberbullying and online hate or privacy controls and oversharing. Digital citizenship provides children with the literacy tools to understand, analyze, and interpret what is real or misleading online, in addition to the reasoning tools to question whether joining in that viral online challenge is a good idea or not.
Without a doubt, in today’s world of an unregulated internet, a foundation in digital citizenship allows children to have boundaries and support as they grow in maturity and responsibility.
How can digital citizenship reduce cyberbullying and online hate?
Unfortunately, bias and discrimination are not limited to the offline world. At times, we encounter them on the internet; in fact, hate speech, trolls and any other activities where people are not accepting of “others” can become even more toxic online. Children and young people today are able to use chat, instant messaging, email and document sharing platforms to harass and bully each other. The online disinhibition effect means that children will often use social networking sites and engage in behavior that they would not normally consider in the offline world. In short, increasing social and emotional learning, compassion, self-compassion, empathy and kindness—all key skills of digital citizenship—is the first step to reducing cyberbullying and online hate.
Sharing information and best practices on combating bullying is the second step. One of the best resources on cyberbullying is The Cyberbullying Research Center, where you can find tip sheets in PDF format. These deliver straightforward, meaningful messaging on how to identify cyberbullying, as well as what to do if your child is a victim of cyberbullying—or even the bully in a cyberbullying situation. The research is up-to-date and includes help for timely situations, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
How can a joint partnership in digital citizenship work?
As in the past, parents, caregivers, teachers, and educators are the primary learning supports for children. However, one of the key differences in today’s digital age is that technology, social media and online games are also providing children with opportunities for education and creativity.
Children and young people sometimes feel forced to find their own ways of managing their online world when they have difficult experiences online. Many researchers have concluded that children and young people rarely turn to caregivers, teachers, or the tech industry to report harmful content, for example.
This is something that caregivers and teachers can change. We can become the first line of support for digital citizens.
Ideas for teachers and educators
- Remember that parents and caregivers can be a great source of support, and they are your first partner in raising a digital citizen.
- During parent-teacher meetings, introduce digital citizenship and let caregivers know that this is a priority for your school.
- Share resources on digital citizenship, including online safety and responsible use of social media and online gaming, in your regular communications with families. You do not need to create these resources on your own; you can refer to the materials and resources in Be Internet Awesome, such as comprehensive teaching guides on digital citizenship, ready-to-teach Pear Deck lessons, a Safety Pledge for children and caregivers to review and sign, and more.
- Ask students to share the lessons learned on digital citizenship at home with their families and report back in the style of their choice: journalist, TV reporter, YouTuber, Tik Tok influencer, etc. Adapt your lesson to the children’s online activities and let the children become the instructors.
Ideas for parents and caregivers
- Understand that teachers and educators have a full curriculum of “core subject matter” to teach your children. There isn’t always enough time in a school day to impart all necessary knowledge, especially as educators try to encourage student participation.
- Ask your child’s teachers how you can support their classroom work at home.
- Understand how communication and open, transparent conversations can play a crucial role in developing children’s online behavior.
- Realize that children are getting cues from the online world on matters (such as online relationships, flirting, peer pressure, etc.), that might be better understood in a familial environment.
- Appreciate your role as a digital role model, and monitor your own healthy and balanced use of technology.
And finally, like any citizens—offline or online—remember that digital citizens-to-be need the support of both educators and family in order to experience, see, and emulate responsible and safe behaviors. Together, we can help children stay secure, make good decisions, and discover the endless opportunities of the online world.
Illustration by Kate Moore
Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov
Speaker, Author, and Consultant on Internet Safety
Digital Parenting Consulting
Elizabeth is an international speaker, author, and consultant on internet safety, digital parenting, and digital family wellness. She founded Digital Parenting Consulting, which provides advisory services to the Council of Europe, UNICEF, and e-Enfance, as well as provides support services to Internet Matters, the UK Safer Internet Centre, and the Family Online Safety institute. She also founded DigitalParentingCoach.com, a website which provides resources for parents and caregivers, and is host of the free, private "The Digital Parenting Community" Facebook group. She has written several publications on digital parenting.