by Priyanka Raha ~ Jan 10, 2019

Today there are about 4.2 billion global internet users, which is 55% of the world’s population. This percentage was only a billion at the beginning of 2006. A typical teen reports having lost an average $400 to cybercrime. 88% of social-media-using-teens have witnessed someone being mean or cruel. You must be wondering why I am telling you this? Because the world is changing around us. 

Like all you parents out there, my job is to make sure that my kids are ready for the world they are growing up in.

An unavoidable truth of this world is that our next generation are growing up where the online interaction is as important as the face-to-face one. As much as we like it or not our next generation is going to have a much bigger online presence and footprint than us.

It is time for us to embrace Digital Citizenship and teach our kids the various facets of responsible online behavior.

What is Digital Citizenship?

Digital Citizenship is a concept which helps teachers, technology leaders and parents to understand what students/children/technology users should know to use technology appropriately. Digital Citizenship is more than just a teaching tool it is defining how we can behave responsibly in the online world. More often than not it is used and referred with respect to teaching young adults but I believe the tenets apply to all of us.

Digital citizenship is the norms of appropriate, responsible technology use.

The subject of digital citizenship is vast and as a parent as well as a concerned 21st century citizen, this is very close to my heart. I found the following three broad ways that you and I can practice this with our kids..

Respect

It is shocking that 80% of young adults believe it’s easier to get away with online bullying than bullying in person. But this also makes sense in a way, because we all know it is far more difficult to be rude to a person’s face. We as adults are not exempt from it. A 2014 study, Pew Research found that 73% of adults have witnessed online abuse and 40% have been victims of it. So what can we do about it?

I am going to repeat an advice that we all have learnt from our parents and teachers. Treat others as you would want to be treated. It is essentially that simple but I agree that it is much harder to put in practice. 

Acknowledge cyberbullying when it happens, specially when it comes to teenagers and young adults. Accept that it is a problem and then go about finding a solution.

Participate and empathize with the kid. I want to emphasize here that you don’t need to be a parent to do that. If you see it, do not be a bystander. The victim may not be your kid, but could be your nephew, niece or a child you know or you don’t know. You and I need to do this together. 

When nothing else works and things get serious and out of hand there are ways that you can take it up with the appropriate authorities. Here is a comprehensive list

Integrity of Information

Very simply, this refers to the fact that all we hear and read online is not true. Please understand that internet is a content aggregator. 

We all are familiar with the term fake news. But the integrity of information is important not just for news but for any information online. As a matter of fact I would like to call these fake facts, instead of fake news. This plays a crucial role in research and fact-gathering for learning and education, as adults and as young students.

Here are some strategies to practice with your child to shield yourself from fake facts:

  • Are you familiar with the source? Is it legitimate? Has it been reliable in the past? If not you may not want to trust it.
  • If a provocative headline drew your attention, read a little further before you decide to pass along the shocking information. Even in legitimate stories, the headline always doesn’t tell the whole story. But fake news particularly efforts to be satirical.
  • Another telltale sign of a fake fact is the byline – if there even is one. Don’t forget to check the credibility of the author of the article.
  • There are sites online that help students check their facts but it is important that you practice it with your kids while gathering information. Please visit this list generated by ISTE. It is possible that at least one of these sites might have already checked the validity of the information.

Communication

This is actually my favorite one. It does seem like an easy answer to all problems. But it actually is.

Like most parents, I worry about the time my kids spend on their devices. Like most adults, I sometimes scroll mindlessly through social media. Like most adults I know when to stop.  

I believe kids are people just like you and me. But they are learning about this vast world – partly by watching you and partly by figuring out things for themselves. Whatever be the case, they need you. Never stop talking to them about their online activity. Show genuine interest. 

I do think it is important to mention here that – screen time can be broadly defined as 

  • Passive consumption: watching TV, reading, and listening to music.
  • Interactive consumption: playing games and browsing the Internet.
  • Communication: video-chatting and using social media.
  • Content creation: using devices to make digital art or music.

As you can tell, content creation is a preferable way of spending time on their devices rather than content consumption. Even with content consumption, be a part of their digital life – ask them their favorite character or what they liked best in the story. As you all agree, it is still important for kids’ overall healthy development to balance their lives with enriching experiences found off-screens. 

The key is balance.

There are some wonderful templates, guideline and checklists available at Common Sense Media and Education that you can download and use.

I want to leave with this thought: Kids may know how to move their fingers deftly around a touch screen but you, as a parent, have the wisdom. And they need it.

Priyanka is the Founder and CEO of PopSmartKids, a company created to foster social-emotional learning in children by effective use of technology. A graduate from Purdue University she left her career as a tech exec in 2018 to start a movement of redefining screentime from a monitored time to a powerful tool for mentoring our future generation. She is a mom to two clever boys and a big advocate of digital citizenship for children.

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