Good Digital Citizenship Starts At Home

The following is a guest post from Kate Beihl, Pear Deck’s VP of Marketing.

Last week we had a pizza party at our house with a bunch of kids between the ages of nine and eleven. Unbeknownst to me, one of these kids was the proud new owner of her mom’s old phone and had brought it with her.

When I came downstairs, instead of watching the movie, the kids were all huddled around the phone looking at Instagram. I rushed over a little terrified of what they might be viewing and ready to intervene. Luckily, the content was completely innocuous — think mesmerizing how-to videos of making slime — but I was still surprised and uncomfortable thinking, “What are they looking at?! Wait, don’t you have to be 13 to use Instagram?! Why do these kids have phones already?!” I turned the crew back to the movie and kind of hovered around, folding laundry and realizing that I was dropping the ball on preparing my kids for the realities of living in a digital world.

Our first son was born in 2007, making his entrance roughly at the same time as Apple’s first iPhone. In the ten years that I’ve been a parent, I’ve seen a radical shift in my own level of online engagement and have been surprised at how quickly and thoroughly technology has woven its way into my home and my children’s lives at home and at school.

My partner and I both work for tech companies and have a front-row seat to assess the opportunities, challenges and outright dangers that come with living in an always online world. Our kids don’t have their own devices and our default approach has been to limit and supervise their media consumption. But while we want to protect them, we’re also quickly realizing that we need to teach them practical skills to be responsible, safe digital citizens.

While a big part of teaching kids these lessons falls to us as parents, schools are taking the issue of digital citizenship very seriously.

Some states are even beginning to adopt legislation to mandate that these programs be taught in schools. The school my kids attend doesn’t have a formal program yet, but the subject came up at parent-teacher conferences last week and I see educators, instructional technologists and media specialists working hard to give students the skills they need now and in the future. This topic is especially important as our school moves towards 1:1 engagement and devices in the classroom.

Last summer at ISTE, Google for Education in collaboration with online safety experts, launched a free digital citizenship program called Be Internet Awesome. The curriculum is geared to kids in elementary and middle-school and includes fun and easy games, vocabulary lists and activities designed to teach the basics like responsible online communication, keeping personal information private and safe, discerning between what’s real and fake, being kind, and preventing online bullying. Be Internet Awesome, and other programs like Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship, are designed to help introduce the skills kids need to be good digital citizens.

For now, I’m taking Be Internet Awesome lessons home and using them with my kids. I know that this seemingly small change can make a big impact in shaping how they interact with the digital world. While we can’t control every move our kids or students make online (as much as I’d like to!) I’m finding some comfort in laying a solid foundation for responsible and safe behaviors.

Interested in teaching Digital Citizenship at your school? This topic is front of mind for the Pear Deck team right now! Please join us on our next #PearDeckChat, focusing on Digital Citizenship, December 12th at 7PM CT.