Teaching Our Children Digital Citizenship

by Carol Brister, Technology Integration Specialist

Our children have been called “digital natives.” Each one was born practically with a mouse or cell phone in his hand and a brain that seems to easily grasp all things digital.  Our children can’t imagine a world without video games, smart phones, laptops, and iPads.  They were born in a time when no two phones had the same ring nor were they wired to the kitchen wall.  They don’t know how to use a phone book or a primitive card catalog in a library, and they don’t have to.  Face it…this is the world we live in!

There are many benefits to living and learning in a time where technology instantly connects us with people, services, and even education.  Think about it…How many times in a given week do you Google something?  Or how often do you look up a phone number without using a phonebook?  There’s an app for that!  New information regarding technology is discovered every day, and for this reason, the way we conduct ourselves and teach our children to behave while engaged with this technology must be continually examined and evaluated, not only from an ethical standpoint, but with a Christian worldview.  Scripture states, “…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31.  No verse could be more fitting to describe both the positive as well as negative aspects of technology in a Christian’s walk.

Standards must be set governing appropriate and ethical use of our gadgets and gizmos.  While these devices and means by which we globally communicate information are relatively new, the concepts of respect and responsibility are not.  In the words of late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, “Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what IS right to do.”

Digital Citizenship is defined as “the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use.”  When you think about it, this short definition is long on implications.  The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has identified nine general areas of behavior that make up digital citizenship.

  1. Etiquette: electronic standards of conduct or procedure
  2. Communication: electronic exchange of information
  3. Education: the process of teaching and learning about technology and  the use of technology
  4. Access: full electronic participation
  5. Commerce: electronic buying and selling of goods
  6. Responsibility: electronic responsibility for actions and deeds
  7. Rights: those freedoms extended to everyone in a digital world
  8. Safety: physical and psychological well-being in a digital technology world
  9. Security (self-protection): electronic precautions to guarantee safety

Most students finish their high school years with a civics course that covers the rights and responsibilities of citizens, but few get enough training on how to be a good “digital” citizen.  For those parents whose children are immersed in technology at home or those teachers who use technology in the classroom, it is important to teach children how to navigate the digital world responsibly and ethically.

What you can do to teach these principles:

  1. Accept that technology is a part of every child’s world.  We can’t go back.  We can only go forward.
  2. Encourage students’ use of age-appropriate online content, teaching them how to be safe while engaging in online activities and recognizing what is dangerous or inappropriate.
  3. Teach and model responsible and appropriate online behavior, including how to respond to content and behavior that makes one uncomfortable.
  4. Teach children the risk of supplying personal information and images online, whether publicly or privately.
  5. Teach children how to be respectful of all other technology users, regardless of their differences.
  6. Encourage discernment when it comes to choosing online contacts and interactions.
  7. Keep talking openly and honestly with children about interpersonal implications of online behavior.
  8. Discuss the permanence of online activity and the impact a child’s digital footprint can have  on his future.
  9. Help children to understand that the use of the Internet and other evolving technology can help them learn, be more productive, collaborate, and communicate.  This can be done in a safe, beneficial, and mutually respectful way.
  10. Teach children that every interaction they have with others both on and offline is an opportunity to witness for Christ.

The prevalence of technology today makes it imperative that children learn how to be good ambassadors of the proper way to utilize technology.  Unlimited access and the perception of   anonymity are just two challenges we face as we allow more technology in our homes and in our classrooms. However, as the world changes, so will our challenges.  It is up to Christian parents and teachers to be sure children learn guiding concepts to take them into the future safely and responsibly.

For more information on this topic, please consider reading:  Raising a Digital Child: A Digital Handbook for Parents by Mike Ribble