Since kids from ages 0-8 typically spend more than two hours a day online, it may be a good idea to talk to your kids about online behavior and digital citizenship. A digital citizen is someone who uses technology to interact with society. You can make bad and good citizenship choices in the online world, just like the real world. If you take part in things like cyberbullying, then you negatively impact the digital world. But how do you explain what it means to be a good digital citizen to your kids?


How to Start the Conversation

The Family Online Safety Institute offers excellent resources for teaching kids about online safety and digital citizenship. In their tips, they recommend starting these conversations early in your child’s life and having them often. There are many ways to begin the discussion, but most people suggest bringing it up casually. You can ask your kid a simple question about what they’re doing online to get the conversation started. For example, if you see them on Facebook, you can ask them if they know that all their posts are saved in an archive. This question can lead to a discussion on the permanence of internet posts and digital citizenship.

Explain that Posts Are Permanent and Traceable

Once you start the conversation, explain that you want to help them be safe online. Remind your kids that what they do online is permanent. We can’t take back what we say in real life or online. Even if a post gets deleted, it’s always possible someone has a screenshot. You should also explain that even though you feel anonymous on the internet, you aren’t. Posts on the internet can be traced back to specific IP addresses and photos have location data encoded in them. Everything you do and say online is traceable. This is why being a good digital citizen is important.

Define Good Digital Citizenship

Now, you should explain how good digital citizens behave online. They should treat other people with empathy and respect. And they should never do anything online that they wouldn’t do in person, like stealing. Reinforce the idea that because everything they do online is public, they should be careful about what they post. Common Sense Media has a list of important things to discuss with your child when you have this conversation. They suggest making sure they know how to tell if something on the internet is real, to use privacy settings, and to report any bullying they see.

Talk About Internet Safety

It’s also a good idea to talk about internet safety. Make sure they know they can always come to you if they feel threatened online. Tell them to keep their social media profiles on private mode so strangers can’t see their information. Teach them to never share personal information like their address or SSN online.


Text by Linda Hunt


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