How to Raise Responsible Digital Citizens

‘So, what is the ultimate goal of all of our parenting?’ When I asked this question to a group of mum friends during the week, the answers were all quite mixed. ‘To raise kind humans’, one offered. ‘To have someone look after me when I’m old!’, said another. But after a few minutes of heavy debate, we all agreed on one thing – our goal is to create responsible citizens who are independent and self-sufficient.  

Now, clearly, this is a project that takes place over at least 18 years!! Quick fixes do not cut it when trying to mould and shape little humans into responsible adults. And of course, this also includes raising responsible digital citizens too – no room for quick fixes here! 

What is Digital Citizenship? 

We’ve all heard the term but what does it really mean?  

Digital citizenship is all about safely and responsibly navigating digital environments and participating in a respectful fashion. In short, it means being responsible, respectful, and intentional in all your online activity.  

In my opinion, a child’s emotional intelligence is intrinsically linked to their ability to be an effective digital citizen. So, I understand why some experts prefer the term digital intelligence to digital citizenship. It does a much better job of explaining that effective digital citizenship requires a set of social, emotional, and cognitive skills that are essential for navigating the digital world. 

In my opinion, teaching kids about digital citizenship needs to happen as soon as a child can pick up a device. Yes – your child might only be 18 months old! But the earlier you start weaving in messages about responsibility and safety – the more automatic it will be for them to adopt a positive digital citizen mindset. 

Raising Digital Citizens Means Raising Safe Citizens 

You’d be hard-pressed to find many parents who don’t worry about the risks of their kids being online. Whether it’s scams, online predators, or cyberbullying, unfortunately, there will always be some level of risk. And while many of us would love to remove our kids’ devices or better still, wrap our babies in cotton wool, this is just not a reality. So, in my opinion, the best way to protect them is to prepare them. I believe that if we take the time to help them develop into responsible and effective digital citizens then they are far more likely to make safe and responsible choices! A complete no-brainer! 

What You Need To Teach Your Kids To Be Effective Digital Citizens 

1. Your Online Identity Is A Key Part of Your Identity 

This is one lesson you don’t want your kids to learn the hard way! When tweens and teens are in the moment, it is easy to forget to think of the consequences of what they post. But one’s online presence is a significant part of their identity and can often be the first place that someone forms an impression of you. The manager of our local supermarket regularly tells me how he will first assess potential applicants with a quick ‘Google’ before he even offers an interview. And if your child is keen to be considered for a leadership position at school or university, it is imperative that they think about how they conduct themselves online too. Intentional, respectful interactions are the name of the game! 

2. Be Respectful and Expect Respect Too 

Respect is at the core of all healthy relationships and that absolutely includes online interactions. So, encourage your child to extend the same level of respect to their online friends and acquaintances as they would to those they meet face-to-face. This means not creating or forwarding hurtful content and or getting involved in negative online discussions or gossip about anyone – no exceptions! 

I’m a big fan of teaching your child to speak up if they experience or witness bullying. While they may think they can handle it on their own, having input from a trusted adult will make the situation feel more manageable and less overwhelming. Advise your kids to block anyone who does not treat them respectfully online – but always take screenshots first! Being proactive will help create a positive and supportive online experience. 

3. Master Healthy Digital Habits 

There are a few essential basic digital habits that are not negotiable, in my opinion. Ensuring your kids have these down-pat will mean that they are maximising the chance of a safe and positive online experience. Here are my top 5: 

  • Think before you post 
  • Limit what personal information you share online 
  • Never, ever share passwords – no exceptions! 
  • Know when to trust a source and when to check your facts 
  • Watch your screen time – take breaks and focus on ‘real-life’ activities too 

4. Do Not Copy or Plagiarise 

Kids love creating content, but it is essential that they don’t copy or plagiarise the work of others. Using others’ work without obtaining their permission is both unethical and technically, against the law. This encompasses all forms of online content (aka intellectual property) including texts, images, and music. As parents, we need to foster digital citizenship in our kids by reminding them to appreciate the efforts and originality of fellow digital creators. In my opinion, giving credit when using others’ work is a ‘best practice’. 

The ’do not copy’ rule also extends to piracy – the illegal downloading of digital content e.g. music or movies. Many kids dabble in piracy, but it really is no different to stealing someone’s work. Encourage your kids to treat the creative work of others with the same respect you would want for your own. And yes, that includes Taylor Swift! 

5. Think Critically Always 

One of the hardest lessons some kids learn online is that not everyone is who they say they are. It can be a crushing moment. So, getting ahead of the game and teaching your kids to be cautiously suspicious about people, platforms, organisations and offers they come across online will hold them in great stead. 

Exercising caution when sharing information with strangers and unfamiliar organisations is an important way to protect yourself. Always do your due diligence before ‘trusting’ someone you connect with on a dating site, always request a legitimate way to transfer money when buying goods online and never just enter personal information on a site without doing your research. 

We’ve all heard the expression ‘when something is too good to be true, it usually is’. This needs to be the golden rule when navigating the internet. Whether it’s early access to snippets from a yet to be released movie, a compelling discount on an iPhone or weight loss supplements, scammers know how to hook us in! Scamwatch is a great resource for identifying and reporting scams here in Australia.  

If your child is uncertain about a website’s credibility, they can pose critical questions to themselves, such as “whose interests does this site serve?” or “how accurate and reliable is the information I’m reading?” This can guide your child in distinguishing between questionable sites and those providing accurate news and content. 

But let me share one final piece of advice. We can encourage and educate our kids all day long about being a responsible digital citizen but unless we are modelling the behaviour we are trying to foster, it’s just not going to work. So, when you’re sharing a new post on Facebook, or commenting on a news article, ensure you are considerate and responsible with your word choice. Show your kids how to have kind and respectful interactions online and always fact-check any information you choose to share – because they are always watching and learning!! 

Happy parenting digital citizens!! 


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