Today’s generation of students is unique because they are the first to completely grow up with technology, making them known as digital natives. Technology is tied not only into their education but also their personal lives, with many kids having access to smartphones and tablets at a young age. Not only that – their social lives are heavily influenced by technology due to the use of various social media platforms, messaging apps and more. Because of this, it’s crucial students are well-versed in digital citizenship, or how to behave responsibly online.
What Is Digital Citizenship?
Digital citizenship refers to the responsible use of technology. By teaching digital citizenship, young students learn how to connect and empathize with one another, make smart decisions and protect themselves and their reputation when interacting online. Without proper guidance on what it means to be a good digital citizen, students may engage in harmful behavior online, including cyberbullying, irresponsible social media usage or sharing of private, personal or sensitive information. This can lead to potentially dangerous situations and have negative effects on students’ mental health. Here are some ways in which we can help students become better digital citizens:
Encourage Digital Empathy
Students should be taught to treat others respectfully and with kindness, both in person and online. Skills that are ingrained in us like empathy and respectfulness for in-person interactions should also be used when interacting online. It’s often easier to say negative or hurtful things when students are behind a screen. This can lead to harmful behavior and/or interactions like cyberbullying, which can greatly affect a student’s mental health for the worst.
By teaching digital empathy through a social-emotional learning curriculum, educators can help students recognize their feelings and make it easier for them to consider the feelings of other online users. It’s important to educate students about their digital footprint, which represents their digital identity. While their online communications through channels like social media and email may seem fleeting, students must be taught that this content is nearly impossible to remove, lasting forever and potentially following them into their offline lives.
Protect Students’ Privacy and Security
Aside from negative and harmful content, students should be taught to avoid sharing personal information online. Unfortunately, there are numerous examples of dangerous online opportunists, including predators, hackers and stalkers. While this isn’t meant to scare students, it should make them cautious about sharing personal details like their address, phone number, the school they attend, pictures of themselves, online passwords and other personal information. Additionally, it may be helpful to advise students to not share their location on social media platforms and to set their profiles to private, accepting requests from only people they know.
Teach Media Literacy
Another important way to promote digital citizenship among students is to teach them media literacy, or the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all forms of communication. Students need to be aware that not everything they read online is true. They need to be taught ways to identify false or suspicious information, media bias and phishing attempts. Teachers should show students how to evaluate media and provide them with reliable media sources. Media literacy also includes understanding and following the proper rules and regulations regarding copyrighted material, intellectual property and creative commons.
Provide Guidance for Healthy Usage
Being raised with technology – and for many students, using it for distanced learning – means that many children and teens have become dependent on digital devices. Educators should not only teach children to maintain a healthy balance between using technology and being offline; they should also enforce it within the walls of the school. After all, if students were to spend all day in school learning on a screen, it would make it that much more confusing or difficult when trying to establish boundaries and healthy usage. Many devices have usage-tracking applications that are either built in or can be downloaded so that students can use it to monitor their screen time and limit their time spent online.
Teaching Digital Citizenship with Social-Emotional Learning
Educators are responsible for so much more than just academics. Living in a technology-dependent society means that teachers and staff must also promote digital citizenship among students, recognize signs of bad digital citizenship and intervene before it escalates. As an educator, know that you’re not alone in dealing with situations like this. Navigate360’s social-emotional learning curriculum for school staff and students includes lessons on relevant topics like digital citizenship. With these resources, faculty and staff can improve student behavior, foster mental health and create a more positive school climate.
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