Positive Approaches to Digital Citizenship


Students-8The  role of students has evolved in the last decade. Where once they were focused on how to make a difference in their local communities, today’s students are making a larger impact in their global community, primarily though their role as digital citizens.  It’s a hot topic that’s often lumped in with internet safety, but it’s so much more.  This month we’re thrilled to feature Dr. Devorah Heitner, founder and CEO of Raising Digital Natives in a webinar titled New Approaches to Digital Citizenship: 5 Ways to Engage Parents and Students on Tuesday, September 29th at 7:00pm ET.

Here’s a sneak peek of what will be shared from Devorah. To learn more be sure to RSVP ASAP to join us for this event.  Let us know your approach to Digital Citizenship or leave a question for Devorah in the comments below.


As school’s increase their integration of interactive digital learning, teachers and administrators often approach me with questions about digital citizenship and keeping kids safe online. Parents also are filled with questions. Third graders want iPod Touches, and fifth graders are asking for smartphones. Schools are supplying technological devices such as Chromebooks or iPads, or asking families to purchase them for their children. Teachers and administrators want to create opportunities for students to engage digitally but they are concerned about some of the negative messages they have heard about screen “addiction” or online cruelty. One thing both teachers should keep in mind is that the technology may be intuitive for kids, but using it for its best purposes still needs to be explicitly taught.

Both teachers and parents can do a lot of great modeling for responsible, thoughtful and caring communication both digital and face to face. However, parents may find that they have few opportunities to model good communication for children and mentor them to be good communicators using cellphones, computers and other digital media. When today’s parents were children, they heard their parents’ phone calls because phones were in public spaces in the home. Even communication that was supposed to be private could sometimes be overheard. Today’s children are more isolated from adult communication because so many communications take place via email or text or on a phone in a private setting. School can be an excellent space for kids to learn about digital community because unlike a worldwide community such as Twitter or Google Plus, a class or school online community is of a manageable size where people interact both on and offline.

Making civility explicitly part of classroom digital community, and having the students work together to define comment policies and appropriate tone for debate and conversation, is a great first step toward teaching this crucial lesson. Civility can be modeled and made explicit. Conflict resolution is another area where educators have an opportunity to mentor students by addressing the tendency to avoid dealing with difficult emotions in person, and to feel disconnected and less empathetic when behind a screen. We all know that sometimes we say things online that we would not say in person. A sixth grader recently showed me all the texts that precipitated her breakup with her best friend, texts she had saved since the fight months before and reread frequently. This demonstrates the need to talk explicitly with students about how to decide when to talk in person and when digital communications are appropriate. It is especially important for students to be aware that it can be hard to repair an emotionally charged situation without communicating in person.

Choosing a communication medium wisely and not out of fear is part of the skill set of conflict resolution. If parents suggest that their children are struggling with distractions when completing homework on a tablet or laptop, educators can work with the parents and students to figure out how to tame the distractions. Acknowledging that this is a challenge that teachers also face is a good first step.

Some other important reminders for educators as we teach the next generation: Encourage creation over consumption. Consuming content is not bad. Educators don’t want students to stop reading. But we also want to encourage students to design, blog, play games that involve creating their own storylines and experiences.

Finally, educators are at the forefront of a huge paradigm shift that can make adults feel overwhelmed. Teachers play an important role in helping parents recognize that they don’t have to feel helpless or clueless; rather, they need to engage with kids and ask them to talk about their experiences. Educators can also remind overwhelmed parents that adults have more social wisdom than their children, even though the children are digitally savvy. Young people need and desire a chance to share what they are discovering in their work with both parents and teachers. The digital world provides unprecedented opportunities for our children’s learning, for families and schools to connect across distances and for us all to share and collaborate, but we need to show our students thoughtful and responsible ways to do this, even as we give them space to innovate, experiment and create.


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