Teaching students about digital citizenship and staying safe online

With a culture that is becoming more and more immersed in technology, it only makes sense that a “code of ethics” surrounding the use of such technology should appear.  Digital citizenship appears to be that code.  No, it is not about pledging allegiance or being a citizenship of a country.  Instead, digital citizenship is a combination of nine elements that showcase what students should about the ethical use of technology.

This once foreign term is making its way into schools, classrooms, and homes.

What are the nine elements?

  1. Digital access.
  2. Digital commerce.
  3. Digital communication.
  4. Digital literacy.
  5. Digital etiquette.
  6. Digital law.
  7. Digital rights & responsibilities.
  8. Digital health and wellness.
  9. Digital security (self-protection).


What is digital access?

In order for people to learn about technology, they must have access.  This element addresses the need for all students to have access to a variety of technology resources.


What is digital commerce?

There was a time that having a package delivered to your home meant that you had purchased it by placing a call or mailing an order form, but in the twenty-first century, many consumers purchase items online.  Items ranging from toys to electronics are delivered to front doors.  As shocking as it may seem, cars and other major purchases are also frequently completed using online market places.  Digital commerce is the element that includes these purchases.




What is digital communication?

Text messages, emails, instant messaging, and even telephone calls…all of these are examples of digital communication.  While this has provided instant and constant communication between people, it has also led to people making poor decisions in reference to some of these digital communication types.


What is digital literacy?

This component of digital citizenship relates to teaching students about technology.  While many students have access and schools are trying to incorporate technology classes into the schedule, there is still a lot to be done.    Students must be taught to use technology quickly and appropriately.


What is digital etiquette?

Is sending a text message from the dinner table ok?  How about talking on your cell phone while checking out at the grocery store?  Should you use your Smartphone to browse the Internet during a business meeting?  All of these focus on digital etiquette.  There is a fine line that many people do not feel comfortable discussing as to the appropriate use of technology in daily activities.


What is digital law?

Identity theft, hacking, spyware…these are terms that have only found their way into the news in recent years.  Crimes such as these have required legislators to create laws that these behaviors are unethical, but they are also illegal.


Digital Rights & Responsibilities:

The freedom of speech that the Bill of Rights provided for American citizens is similar to the rights we are offered in the digital world.  Technology users have a basic set of rights.


Digital Health & Wellness:

Internet addiction?  Carpal tunnel syndrome?  This component addresses the need for technology users to mentally and physically take precautions to stay healthy.


What is digital security? 

Digital security involves taking precautions to protect our technology devices.   We need to have virus protection, backups of data, and surge protectors.  While this seems extreme, we would not leave our home unlocked when we leave, so we must take similar precautions to protect what others might attempt to “deface”.


Why is digital citizenship important?

In today’s world, technology is everywhere!  Students carry smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices that literally leave the world at their fingertips.  Due to this, students must understand the ethical use of having such immense access to resources, people, and general communication that was only science fiction several years ago.

Having access to the world is incredible and opens up so many possibilities, but considering that about one in six kids will meet someone face to face that they first met online, they must understand the implications of these actions and appropriate safety precautions.  It may seem that this is common sense knowledge, but many children refuse to report inappropriate messages for fear that they will be punished and/or lose their Internet privileges.

With a world that uses social networks to maintain constant access with others, students need to understand why divulging their full identity is not only inappropriate, but can also be dangerous.  Considering only 65 of teens on sites like Facebook, My Space, and Twitter use privacy controls on their profiles, we must do more to teach digital citizenship.

Additionally, it may seem that targeting teens is enough, but students as young as first grade are activating these social network profiles.  By educating them about proper etiquette, we can help them to become safe, conscientious users of the digital world that awaits them.


Internet Safety Tips:

Would it be shocking to note that over 4 million children post to the Internet daily?  This staggering statistic alone shows why we must emphasize Internet safety tips.  These are some of the most important tips for sharing with your children:

  1.  Never give out personal information.
  2. Do not meet with someone you met online.
  3. Tell your parents or a trusted adult if something you read online makes you feel uncomfortable.
  4. Remember that people can pretend to be anyone on the Internet.  Just because they say that they are an eleven year old girl DOES NOT mean that they are an eleven year old girl.


Final Thoughts:

The Internet doesn’t have to be avoided, but the safe use of it does have to be taught.  By allowing students to anonymously answer the “Digital Citizenship Survey”, you will have a greater understanding as to their online practices and need for additional lessons to help them stay safe.

Below are some links to websites relating to digital citizenship to help readers gain access to more information.

External Resources

What is digital citizenship?