I looked the ten-year-old student in the eyes and asked, “Should you give your personal information out on the internet?” He ignored my question. I repeated the question with a bit more passion the second time. “Well, should you?” The student, still refusing to make eye contact, mumbled some sort of “yes” to me. I quickly jumped in and explained what could happen in that situation. What would happen if a stranger had your address and came to your house? The student replied, “Nothing would happen.” Right then and there, I realized even with the exposed technology over the last several years, especially last year (I’m looking at you, 2020) that students still do not understand the dangers of an online presence.
Obviously, this got me thinking. The number of hours kids are spending and being exposed online through videos, messaging, collaborative tools, and games is increasing, unless you live in China and abide by the new limitations on devices. So, how can you make an impact on your child’s digital citizenship?
Five Digital Citizenship Lessons To Have With Your Child:
1. Giving Out Personal Information (address, phone number, passwords, full name, age)
I recently had a friend tell me about a student who used a family member’s credit card to order something online. I’ll say it 1,000 times; kids are smart. They can outwit, outsmart, and get very creative on hiding information from parents. With that being said, they need to know the importance of why they should not be signing up for random websites, putting their information out on the web. Their digital dossier follows them forever, and they need to learn at a young age why it is necessary for them not to give out this personal information. Teach them this information stays with them forever. Once you delete something, it isn’t ever permanently gone.
As a teacher and mother of a future device owner, this is a topic that I wish parents would take more seriously. Cyberbullying is so common, and many parents pass it off as something small. Still, it can add up and affect children’s social, emotional, and academic behaviors and lead to something more serious, like suicide. Keeping a close eye on your child, understanding who they are talking to regularly is a great first step. Have an open conversation with your child to let them know you’re there to help and guide them through using online platforms safely. It is so important they know they can go to you when something feels off or wrong.
3. Trusting Everything You Read And Who You “Meet”
Although kids can outsmart adults when it comes to hiding things on devices, they don’t have the maturity to outsmart predators online. Predators know what to say, know how to fool kids, and can manipulate them into giving their personal information out. I remember being extremely annoyed with my parents coming to check on me as I chatted for hours with friends through MSN Messenger and Yahoo Chat in junior high and high school. But now, as a parent, I know my dad could have cared less about the conversations I was having with my best friends about the dress I was wearing for an upcoming dance, and he cared more about who I was talking to and how safe I was being.
4. Suspicious Texts or Emails
This one might not seem as common to deal with when it comes to a child’s digital citizenship, but spam comes in all shapes, forms, and avenues these days. Teach your child to never click on links that come from someone they don’t know. Teach them to never give out personal information, even if they say they are from the government. This seems so obvious to us as adults, but if someone is emailing them about winning the latest gaming device, most kids will not be able to resist.
5. To Post or Not to Post
Just like I mentioned above, your digital dossier follows you from birth to even after death. It is important what type of digital footprint you’re leaving behind. Teach your child what is appropriate to put online. This is not only important for safety reasons, as predators can easily “friend” your child. But I know I even have some regrets about photographs I posted in college, thinking it was just something “cool” to post to show my friends. Future employers and colleges look at online presence, and the last thing you want is to ruin future plans over a dumb picture.
It’s not too late! Start talking with your child about their digital citizenship. Not sure where to start? Take a look at the resources below to guide you into having these conversations with your child(ren).
BrainPop Video: Internet Safety (younger kids)
BrainPop Video: Digital Etiquette (older kids)
Free Online Digital Citizenship Lessons (K-12)