Parenting is not an easy job, especially these days. Not only do we need to keep our kids safe from physical dangers and harm, but we also need to instruct them on how to be good people offline and online. Let this digital citizenship guide be another resource in your parenting tool belt to help raise happy, healthy children into adults.
Table of Contents
- Children in a Digital Age
- Why Digital Literacy is Important for Kids?
- Teaching Digital Citizenship: The Dos and Don’ts
- The Main Sources of Children and Digital Danger
- Steps to Reduce the Possible Risks
Children in a Digital Age
Our children are being raised in a very different landscape than we were. Their lives are steeped in technology from a very young age. Therefore, even if we are not technical experts, we do need to help our kids learn how to behave online to respect others and know all about the benefits and dangers of this connected, digital world.
Why Digital Literacy is Important for Kids?
Teaching children how to use digital devices, services, and social media is critical because they will be living in that world, long after we are gone. Just as we teach them the dangers of crossing the road, we must also inform them about cyberbullying, online stalkers, ransomware, phishing, and other risks lurking just below the surface of the internet.
Teaching your kids digital literacy benefits society as a whole so that children grow up knowing how to be respectful, responsible, kind, helpful, accepting, and productive. It also helps them build confidence knowing how to respond to inappropriate behaviors and content.
Teaching Digital Citizenship: The Dos and Don’ts
Kids hear the terms do’s and don’ts a lot in school, so it’s a smooth transition to use the same format when teaching them about digital citizenship. However, we also have to teach by example. We cannot tell our kids it’s rude to use cell phones at the dinner table and then do it ourselves. We have to be consistent and follow through with what we tell them are the dos and don’ts; we must follow ourselves.
Dos of Teaching Digital Citizenship
When teaching your kids about digital citizenship, the items below are things you absolutely want to cover as dos:
- Emphasize safety in all areas of digital wellness. Not only device protection but also on social media, email, and all other forms of digital communication.
- Use the golden rule “do unto others as you want done to you.”
- Teach your children how to respond to cyberbullying, unwanted attention (potential stalker or child molester), and other threats. Give them the confidence to handle it but also keep an open-door policy to come to you immediately if they need help. As a parent, monitor their online activities closely.
- Report bad behavior online.
- Stop, drop, and think before posting anything online.
- Keep your accounts and content private.
- Always be kind and try not to “react” to hate posts and negative comments.
- Always follow the rules of the service or website you are using.
According to an article in Engadget, four more DOs for teaching digital citizenship are:
- Using technology to make your community better.
- Engaging respectfully online with people who have different beliefs than you.
- Using technology to make your voice heard by public leaders and to shape public policy.
- Determining the validity of online sources of information.
As the parent of a child living in the digital world, do educate yourself on the latest technology, how social media platforms work, and involve yourself in your child’s digital lessons. It’s an ongoing process that doesn’t end until they are adults. You have to teach them along the way while you learn also.
Don’ts of Teaching Digital Citizenship
Some don’t to keep in mind when instructing your kids on digital citizenship are:
- Never steal (plagiarize) from others. An online forum is just as legitimate as a newspaper, book, or other published work.
- Don’t ever think you are anonymous and conceal bad behavior behind your username because you think you won’t get caught. Digital or not, it’s all out there, and you can be found.
- Be careful what you post, don’t spread rumors, lies, or other bits of information if you don’t have all the facts. This is true in real life as well as digital communication.
- Don’t believe everything you see online. People online may not be who they appear to be, always be on the lookout for fraudsters.
- Don’t give attention to haters online.
- Stay away from inappropriate content.
- Don’t overshare online.
- Be careful of sharing pictures, videos, or personal information with strangers.
The Main Sources of Children and Digital Danger
There are many dangers, both physical and digital, in this world. At each stage of growth, the risks may be more imminent or less so. As kids get older and understand better, the dangers recede a bit, and we, as parents, can breathe easier. To help guide you through which dangers are more present, when, review the sections below.
TV & Movies
TV and movies have evolved, and what was considered completely inappropriate a few years ago, is now commonplace on many shows and videos. However, just because the ratings people say it’s age-appropriate doesn’t mean you should let your kids watch it.
Violence on TV and in movies has been linked to anxiety, depression, and aggressive behaviors in preschool kids. Too much TV (more than 4 hours per day) can cause obesity in children.
Grade schoolers are introduced to “peer pressure” early, and what your kids watch in movies and on TV can influence their behavior and values. If a kid watches too much risky behavior (smoking and drinking) or shows and movies with stereotypes and racism, he or she may start to emulate this.
As kids get older, they want to act and feel like a grown-up. This is a difficult time for both parents and kids. Violence, risky behavior, and other unwanted ideals are a danger to pre-teens who want to fit in and be cool. They may imitate things they see on the screen to feel worthy.
Teens are basically adults-in-training, and they will push against any boundaries you put up. It may be more difficult to monitor and control the content that they are exposed to. However, there are still dangers in letting your teen watch too much violence or sex. Studies have shown that too much at a young age tends to promote those behaviors in young adults.
Children begin to use computers at an early age, and they are used regularly now in schools. Some of the dangers based on age group are:
Preschoolers generally want to play games online, and as long as you monitor them, they are unlikely to get into too much trouble on a computer.
Grade schoolers are using the computer more and more for education, researching, and to connect with friends. This is the time when some of the biggest dangers are child predators, cyberbullying, viruses and ransomware, along with exposure to inappropriate content.
Pre-teens are using computers more often than ever before. Unfortunately, this leaves them exposed to threats like cyberbullying, child predators, inappropriate content, social media shaming, and other issues.
By the time your child is a teen, hopefully, you will have educated them about the dangers of strangers online, social media trolls, and privacy issues. If they have been taught well, they should stay out of danger or at least come to you with any questions or concerns. The biggest danger here is viruses, malware, and ransomware.
Video games are another point of contention for many educators and parents. The dangers are:
Young kids love to play. Video games can be a fun way to let them explore fantasy and engage their imagination. However, some video games include inappropriate content, and too much screen time has been linked to various health issues.
Grade schoolers are probably the widest demographic playing video games. Some games are great for brain building and learning. However, many popular games (loved by peers) are too violent and may include other risky behaviors (drugs, drinking, and sex).
As pre-teens are exposed to higher levels of violence in video games, they may start to express fear, distrust, and act out in other ways. Some of these games can cause confusion about what is real and what is not.
Even teens playing video games can get the wrong idea about what is right and wrong. When cheering for the “good guy” who slew the bad guys, it may put an unwanted spin on violence and confuse teens.
Advertising is often aimed at young people who don’t fully understand that what they are being told is not the whole truth.
Preschoolers are very vulnerable to ads targeting youngsters. They haven’t fully grasped what is real and what is not.
Although grade-schoolers are older, they too can become confused about what is real, and they may believe ads they see on TV without question.
Pre-teens are at risk as well, especially for ads that target this age group. Advertisers may make unwanted behaviors look cool or okay.
Even teens haven’t fully developed and can be caught up in advertising they see online or on TV. It’s up to you to educate them and set them straight.
Steps to Reduce the Possible Risks
Some steps you can take to make sure your kids avoid the risks:
- Control screen time and content.
- Teach about advertising and not to believe everything you see online, on TV or in movies.
- Monitor what your kids watch and limit screen time.
- Actively engage with your kids to explain what they are seeing and answer any questions they have.
- Review the video game ratings for age and appropriateness.
- Steer your kids away from violence, risky behavior, and other content you aren’t comfortable with. However, take the time to talk with them about why you have a problem with it and why you don’t want them to act that way.
- Instruct your kids about online security and privacy.