What Is Digital Citizenship? Teaching Kids to Be Smart & Safe Online

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by: Erin Dower
Digital citizenship is "the norms of appropriate, responsible technology use," and helps kids learn to be smart and safe in their use of mobile devices and social media. Get tips on teaching kids to avoid cyberbullying, sexting, and more in this growing digital world.
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Preparing the next generation of digital citizens

We've all read news stories about the downside of mobile technology and social media: cyberbullying, harassment, stalking, sexting, catfishing, and the list goes on. It's enough to make any parent want to curl up in a ball and never, ever give their child a mobile device. But, in reality, most kids in the U.S. end up with a mobile phone, tablet, or device in their hands at some point during their teen years — because, despite its faults, mobile technology has made it so much easier for teens and parents to get in touch with each other. And social media isn't all bad. While social media can induce "like" anxiety and "fear of missing out" (aka "FOMO"), research shows that technology and social media can help connect teens in a positive way. Like it or not, the mobile world is here to stay.

So what can we do to help prevent the next generation of kids from becoming victims — or perpetrators — of sad or bad mobile behavior? While there are plenty of online tools and apps for monitoring kids' online behavior, the first line of defense really comes down to this: digital citizenship.

"Golden rules" for the mobile era

Digital citizenship is "the norms of appropriate, responsible technology use," according to Mike Ribble, the education and technology expert who founded DigitalCitizenship.net and author of books on the subject. Think of it as a set of "golden rules" for the mobile era, but also a sturdy foundation for entrusting youth to use technology wisely. Digital citizenship involves all online users (not just kids and teens), and aims to keep social media and online behavior respectful, safe, and responsible. Parents and teachers are beginning to focus on digital citizenship in order to help protect children and make the digital world a happier, more productive place.

As the old saying goes, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." In the course of teaching your child how to behave and treat others online, she'll also learn how to spot red flags in other people's online behavior, which will help keep her safe. Ideally, you'll begin to educate your child about digital citizenship before allowing her to join social media — and model good social media habits yourself.