K–12 students have more access to the internet than ever, thanks to the multitude of personal devices at their fingertips.
Kids aged 8–18 years old are in front of screens for seven hours every day on average, CBS News reports. With 95 percent of teenagers in possession of mobile devices, students are constantly sharing and searching through social media platforms.
Because students are inevitably exposed to the online world, it is important that adults teach them how to be responsible digital citizens — to protect both themselves and their peers.
Students Learn Best from Each Other
While parents and teachers can outline best practices for internet use, it’s often students’ peers who are the most effective digital citizenship guides, because they understand the social media platforms their fellow students are using.
Organizations that teach students to be responsible internet users operate around this philosophy and find success through it.
Project B3, for example, a nonprofit organization that helps schools organize digital citizenship training, recruits students to serve as digital responsibility mentors who create curricula to fit their schools’ needs.
Teach Students to Be Safe, Be Smart, Be Kind
While specific topics may be more relevant to some schools than others, all curricula should promote ideals that extend beyond any one platform or device. Project B3 outlines three areas that can be useful for K–12 schools interested in creating their own digital citizenship programs. I think they’re all great fits for today’s learners.
- Be safe: Information security is a key component of digital citizenship. Students need to learn what is and is not okay to share online. Being safe also means being aware of applications with built-in systems such as location services, which may share students’ information without their knowledge.
- Be smart: Whatever students post to their personal profiles is cast out into the digital ether and can be seen by anyone at any time. Students must be savvy about what they say and do online, since college admissions officers — and even future employers — are likely to look through their social media accounts. One tip from Project B3 I think is especially relevant is smart online use doesn’t have to focus exclusively on what not to post. There are plenty of tactics students can employ to create outstanding digital profiles that will help them compete for a job offer or acceptance letter.
- Be kind: As in real life, we want students to learn being a responsible digital citizen means treating others with kindness and respect. Cyberbullying is a serious problem, and students should have a deep understanding of it. This includes understanding what cyberbullying is, why it happens, the legal and emotional repercussions and how to stop it. This part of the curriculum, too, should expand beyond the negatives. Create ways to teach students how to lift each other up on social media and how to support their school community.
Current and future K–12 students will continue to engage through online platforms. By collaborating closely, teachers and administrators can work with students to give kids the tools they need to become responsible digital citizens long after they’ve graduated.
This article is part of the "Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology" series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.