Our kids hang out with friends that they’ve never met in person, they have digitally assigned homework starting in Kindergarten, and suddenly iPhones are falling out of their pockets under the monkey bars. Like it or not, they are already Digital Citizens; that is the world they were born into. The focus for them this Digital Citizenship Month (and quite frankly, every month) is to help them become good Digital Citizens, community members adding to the net positive for themselves and others, while using technology to learn and play. Here are some tips from a mom and teacher to help you get them there:
- Know where your kids are online
Before I had kids I would scoff that “people just use screens to babysit their kids!”. Now I appreciatively use screens to babysit my kids! But I know what they’re watching. If it’s interactive, I have tried it out myself to make sure it’s airtight. Plus, when I am done brushing my teeth in peace I look over their shoulder for a while and then we talk about it. What did you see? What was fun? Was there anything that concerned you? They know from the beginning that I’m paying attention and they are not alone online.
- Be picky about what apps you let them use
As we know from the cereal aisle, not everything with a cartoon on it is good for kids! Every app or digital space for kids was made by someone for some reason. Since the kids tech industry has become trendy and lucrative, there are plenty of places for kids to hang out online that are not created by well-intentioned people. Learn more about the technology that you expose your kids to. Find the “whole wheat,” truly educational media developed by parents, teachers, and experts who put your kids’ safety, privacy, and development first.
- Set screen expectations with your child each time
The same pep talks we all have before walking into Target or Walmart (“Stay in the cart!” and “You can’t buy everything you see”), a public bathroom (“Don’t touch ANYTHING!”), or school (“Respect your teacher”and “Do your best”) apply to the digital world too. What are the expectations for this app or website? How can they share their best selves on social media? How long is this screen time going to be (plus a few minutes because the silence is so amazing!). When your child knows what to expect online, they are better prepared for the experience.
- Teach your kids to question the digital world
I was envying my own mom just yesterday, because she got to raise kids before the internet when our childhoods were made only f stuff we could see. Now the seams have burst, and our kids have access to so much beyond that. The sense of possibility that they have is enviable, but they have to know how to navigate it for this to be a positive thing. Not everything you read is the truth. Not everyone you meet has your best interests in mind. Without making them tiny little skeptics, it is time to develop that little voice in their heads that asks good questions. Where did this come from? What is the purpose of this? How can I find out more? How do I feel about this? Be prepared to answer tough questions and encourage curiosity.
- Raise good real-life citizens
If we raise our kids to be good and kind people, they will carry these qualities into the digital world too. When our kids have a strong moral compass, know how to be considerate of others, and are in tune with themselves and the world around them, they will be less likely to get dragged into dark, misinformed content online, buckle silently under the weight of cyberbullying, or spend unhealthy amounts of time on their screens.
The digital world is a part of our kids’ real worlds and we have an amazing (and unprecedented!) responsibility to raise the digital citizens who will lead our future. Imagine how cool our kids will be when they have evolved beyond our experimental generation and are building the digital world into a truly creative, kind, and innovative place!