How Do We Teach Kids to be Good Digital Citizens?

Thank you so much to Margaret Simon of Reflections on the Teche for hosting DigiLit Sunday.  I am very appreciative of this space to share my thinking and experiences about digital literacy.  You can view other posts about digital literacy on her blog.

The last several weeks have given me pause to rethink how I teach digital citizenship.  I thought I had done a pretty good job.  We spent the beginning of the year learning about the importance of being a good digital citizen:

  • Don't give identifying information about yourself when you are online
  • Keep your password private
  • Don't ask for others' passwords
  • Leave a positive impression when commenting or connecting with others
  • View information that is appropriate for school
  • Cite evidence you find on the Internet
  • Be responsible for the information you put on the Internet
I used a lot of information from Common Sense Media as I got my kids ready to venture into the digital world.  Our lessons have been reinforced by the media specialist and the technology teacher.  I sent a letter home to parents explaining our guidelines and asked students and parents to sign the letter before we started blogging and allowing kids to bring in their own technology.  I thought we had it under control and we did for awhile.

The first problem occurred after Christmas break when I received an email from a parent saying that some kids were playing inappropriate games during indoor recess.  They would quickly switch to the home screen if a teacher checked to see what they were doing.  The clincher was that a child was watching an inappropriate music video and showing it to other kids.  That was an easy one to fix.  We wouldn't use devices during indoor recess because the teacher on duty couldn't supervise every single student.  We had a long, intense chat about the importance of following the rules.

No incidents occurred until 3 weeks ago.  Two boys Googled "sex" on the iPads and left a trail.  Last week, another student guessed someone's password and got into his blog.  All three received consequences.  

To say I'm upset is an understatement.    If it had only been one occurrence, it might not have had such an impact on me.  But putting all of these instances together has me frustrated and perplexed.  

I don't write this post to be a Debbie Downer.  Instead, I am asking myself, "How do I impress upon kids the importance of being safe and respectful when using digital technology?"  I get that kids are curious.  Back in the day, kids might have looked up dirty words in the dictionary or looked at the naked pictures in National Geographic and snickered with their friends.  The amount of information that is available to us today is astronomical.  Our firewalls and filters don't always work.  Unfortunately, it's too easy for kids to be exposed to and share information that is not appropriate for their age level.  

These breaches have taught me some important lessons.  First, I understand that going over this information at the beginning of the year is not enough.  We need to revisit this topic throughout the school year and talk about the importance of being responsible.  Secondly,  I wonder if I should bring in an expert to talk to the kids.  I certainly don't want to scare them, but I do want them to understand these safety issues.  

I don't know the answers.  What I do know is that this topic is very important for my  young learners.  This is the time we build the foundation for good habits when using technology.  They need to learn it now, because as they get older, they will be exposed to so much more and their decisions may impact their dreams and goals for the future.  

What are some of your strategies for teaching digital citizenship?


  1. Julie, I feel your pain. Unfortunately the answer from the top is more limits. I don't think this works. We need to protect our kids, but we also must educate them and make them responsible human beings. There should be consequences. But there also needs to be clear communication about expectations. An expert may be a good idea. As long as we have the Internet, we will be faced with this problem. I miss the days when a student got in trouble for making a curse word on his calculator.

  2. This is SO hard! I think you're doing the right thing, though; you're designing lessons around this topic and holding conversations about expectations. It's like bullying, though. I don't think we're ever going to get rid of it 100%, or reduce the abuse of technology to 0. That doesn't mean we should stop trying, and it certainly doesn't mean to take it away, or like Margaret said, to limit it more. Did you see Katherine's Facebook post this week with the social media guidelines? We need to keep these kinds of things in front of kids. Also, I hope the more they see all the positive uses of technology, the more ideas they'll have to occupy their "creative" minds. ;-)


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