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Mom and daughter using computerDuring Digital Citizenship Week, sponsored in California by the excellent nonprofit organization Common Sense Media, please join the many parents, educators, and other adult leaders who will be taking time with young people to model and teach strategies for safe, positive online life!

Many adults worry that their own lack of online skill or experience means they have nothing to offer their kids in terms of digital citizenship. This is not true.

At Kidpower, we focus on what people can do to protect their own safety and the safety of others. When worry or lack of confidence prevents adults from taking positive action they actually have the power to take, kids are less safe – online and in the real world.

Every parent, teacher, or caregiver – even those with kids as young as 5, and even those who are not online or whose kids are not currently online – can take each of the following 7 steps to support kids’ current or future online safety. During Digital Citizenship week, you can:

Day 1: Brainstorm what ‘good citizenship’ means to each of you

What does it mean to you to be a ‘good citizen’ – simply as a person, online or elsewhere? Does it mean that you act respectfully? That you contribute to a greater good? That you behave in ways that support a sense of safety?

What does good citizenship mean in a preschool – versus in a high school or office? Or in a video game or any group online? What are the differences?

Do you want to be experienced as a good citizen? Why or why not? How can we each use our own power right now to be good citizens in places we go – online or elsewhere?

Day 2: Identify some of your basic social values and consider how they might apply online

In age-appropriate ways, brainstorm with kids about ways you each think people should and shouldn’t treat others. For each item, whether they are suggested as “DOs” or “DON’Ts”, consider whether that value could be applied online, too.

Maybe one person says, “We DON’T take other people’s things.” This opens the door to talking about concepts like copyright and plagiarism, which are forms of taking other people’s things without permission.

Maybe another says, “We DO respect people’s privacy (or stuff, or spaces).” So, in general, is it okay to go into someone’s home or car without being invited? Is it okay for us to go into another person’s room and read their diary? If a friend says, “I know my sister’s password. We can log into her account…” – is that any different? Why or why not?

Include the idea that safety is an exception. A paramedic might go in a home without getting permission first – why? For safety! Many adults have agreements with kids that the adults may log in to any of their online accounts and review everything in it without checking with the child. This is an important part of helping kids be safe online.

Day 3. Teach kids that digital technology has the power to magnify and accelerate.

People of any age deserve to know that digital technology has the power to carry our words, images, recordings, and other actions to more people – really fast. This means that ‘taking it back’ is much harder online than it is in the real world.

Kind, generous behavior can be magnified and carried farther and faster than ever thanks to digital technology. Cruel, offensive behavior can now be magnified and carried much farther and faster than ever as well.

Understanding this helps people make wiser choices online, including when considering how we might take charge of our own online reputation. Model and practice using Calm Down Power and Think First Power before speaking or acting – in the real world as well as online, especially when we are feeling upset.

Day 4. Teach kids that digital places are not private

Posting, sending, tweeting, recording, and other forms of digital communication create a digital footprint. That means that other people – including your parents, law enforcement, teachers, peers, and employers – may see or hear them, now or years from now, even if you think you used a platform designed to be ‘private’.

People can make more informed choices online if they assume that everyone they know will see or hear their communication right away. If you would lose any sleep because everyone saw what you did or shared, then don’t give it a digital footprint.

Revisit the Day 2 topic that safety is an exception. Adults responsible for the safety of a child may need to enter a child’s account because the adult is responsible for the child’s safety – even if this makes a child feel angry.

Day 5: Teach kids that digital citizenship includes respecting the privacy of others.

Teach kids that digital safety and citizenship means we respect the privacy of others, even though we understand that others might not respect our own privacy.

Brainstorm examples of respecting privacy in the real world, such as:

  • we don’t enter people’s homes or cars without their permission
  • we don’t read people’s journals without their permission
  • we don’t gossip, meaning we don’t talk about people in ways that are hurtful or that share private information or stories without their permission.

Consider similar examples of respecting privacy in online spaces, such as:

  • we don’t log into someone else’s account without their permission
  • we don’t read someone else’s private messages without their permission
  • we don’t share stories, pictures, or recordings of others without their permission

Revisit the fact that safety is an exception. When kids share information with adults because they are worried or uncomfortable or because they believe there is a safety problem, they are telling to be safe. This is NOT ‘tattling’ or ‘gossiping’. Families often have agreements that kids’ online accounts are NOT private and that the adults might log in and review kids’ communication at any time. This is important in order to help kids be safe online.

Day 6: Teach kids that if they experience cyberbullying or real-world bullying, it’s not their fault and they deserve to be safe.

Even young kids know that sometimes people can be difficult. They experience this in the real world when other kids throw sand or push. They also know that people can be incredibly kind and generous.

The full range of behavior happens online, too. We have skills to be safe with difficult behavior and with bullying behavior in real world spaces. The same skills help us be safe in online spaces. They are:

  • Be Aware: Notice other people’s words and actions. Notice if you are feeling uncomfortable or unsafe.
  • Take Charge: Hundreds of possible actions can be ways of taking charge, including signing off, logging out, setting boundaries, joining a new match, or blocking users. It also includes saving evidence of hurtful behavior such as by taking screenshots or printing.
  • Get Help: If you experience cyberbullying or real world bullying, it is not your fault, and you deserve to be safe from all kinds of bullying. Tell and keep telling adults until you get help. Getting help with online problems always means talking to an adult you know trust in the real world, even if the game or app has a way to report problems that you might also choose to use.

Learn more about bullying prevention skills by visiting Kidpower’s Bullying Prevention page.

Day 7: Make a Kidpower Digital Citizenship and Safety Agreement to support skills for safe, positive online experiences, now and for years to come

The Kidpower Digital Citizenship and Safety Agreement template is designed as a tool to support teachers, parents, and other adult leaders in the process of creating their own agreement with the young people in their care.

You and the young people in your life might have a much shorter, simpler agreement – or a much longer, more detailed one! Some agreements, especially with younger kids, include drawings and illustrations. Some include a lot more detail about passwords or about specific multiplayer video games.

Add anything that makes your agreement fit for your family or your group. The process of making the agreement together is what matters.

Kidpower’s 7-day Digital Citizenship Week plan is intended to help adults with any level of online skill or confidence build belief in their ability to play a positive, meaningful role in their own child’s digital safety and citizenship skill development. At the same time, we know that knowledge is empowering! We encourage all adult leaders to use the resources below to learn more digital citizenship and online safety – and to use Kidpower’s online library (free community membership), books, workshops, and other resources to continue building your skills to be safe with people everywhere you go – including online!

Additional resources about Digital Citizenship Week:

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Published: October 14, 2016   |   Last Updated: October 14, 2016

Erika Leonard manages our California center, trains and mentors instructors, and is a Kidpower Senior Program Leader.

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