by Lynette Owens
In today’s world, kids are using electronic devices before they are reading and writing—which is both exciting and frightening for parents and communities. It seems that with every year that passes, kids are receiving their first cell phone, tablet, or other electronic device at younger and younger ages. As this trend continues, it’s more important than ever to teach kids to use these devices responsibly and become good digital citizens. As well, as these devices leave home and go with kids to classrooms and play dates, it becomes essential that communities work together to teach and promote proper use, respect, and responsibility online.
But what exactly is digital citizenship? It is “the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use.” Digital citizenship involves not only using technology and devices appropriately, but also being responsible with all that comes with them, from social media access to Internet searches.
Community Members’ Roles
Helping kids be good digital citizens is no small task; that is why entire communities—parents, teachers, coaches, and other community members—must work together to model and encourage it. From a child in kindergarten getting online for the first time, to a senior in high school getting online for the zillionth time, we all have a role in beginning and continuing conversations about what it means to be good digital citizens.
- Parents and guardians: In most cases, this is the group that introduces kids to technology for the first time. Families make different choices about when and what their kids can access at young ages, but they should do so with eyes wide open. Parents should use the devices and apps that their kids use, share stories and advice with other parents, and, most important, talk to their kids about what it means to use the Internet safely, responsibly, and wisely. They should have this first discussion when their kids are at a young age and keep the communication going.
- Schools: As technology’s role in schools and classrooms continues to increase, so does the importance of teaching digital citizenship. If schools require students to use Internet-connected devices and online services for schoolwork and in collaborative ways, they should also provide guidance on appropriate use, both when the kids are in school and elsewhere (home, library, a friend’s house). Ideally, these messages are reinforced by the same messages kids are receiving from their parents.
- Law and government officials: Access to the Internet and technology isn’t a right, but a privilege. For this reason, it is important that both law and government officials come together to not only create but enforce policies related to digital citizenship. Additionally, these policies should be promoted and discussed with members of the community so that everyone can learn to practice good digital citizenship.
Every group in a community plays a role teaching or role-modeling digital citizenship, whether by deliberate action or simply by the way we set examples. By working together, we can ensure the messages of what it means to be great at being online will be reinforced, wherever kids are, so that when they are out on their own, they can make great decisions that will help them thrive both on and offline.
Lynette Owens is the founder and global director of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families (ISKF) program. A mom of two school-age children, Lynette established the ISKF program in 2008 to help extend the company’s vision of making a world safe for the exchange of digital information to the world’s youngest citizens. The program, active in 19 countries, helps kids, families, and schools become safe, responsible, and successful users of technology. Follow Lynette on Twitter @lynettetowens or read her blog: internetsafety.trendmicro.com