As a high school teacher, I’ve witnessed many parents try to monitor their children’s internet usage, with varying levels of success. I’ve also noticed that many school districts choose to censor or block what sites students can access. However, my observations of students’ online behavior tell me that most of us fall short in teaching students what comprises smart, safe digital citizenship.
Particularly for secondary and post-secondary school students, removing all computer privileges is a consequence that interferes with learning. Anyone who’s taken more than a passing glance at the Common Core standards knows that students will be using technology extensively in the coming years, though many are required to do so already.
Educators and parents often first provide “scaffolding”, or extra support, for students to support their learning. Gradually, the assistance is removed as students gain confidence in using a new skill on their own, such as when training wheels are removed from a child’s bike. This same graduated support should be applied to learning digital citizenship skills, yet few parents and schools seem to have a plan for such support.
Educators and parents often act simply as gatekeepers to the internet. While reports that most parents monitor their children’s Facebook activity are encouraging, the overwhelming evidence in my classroom and home, at least, is that they aren’t effective in helping kids learn to be good digital citizens.
Instead of thinking they’ve fulfilled their responsibilities by limiting or removing access, school districts and families should consider a graduated approach. We shouldn’t allow young children unsupported internet access any more than we would give a two-year-old a large bike without training wheels for her first spin around the driveway.
Here are some ideas to discuss with your colleagues or family members when considering a graduated approach:
1. Find out how the kids in question already use the internet.
2. What is the goal or objective? Finish the statement: by age _____, children should be able to ______________.
3. What online habits do children in our school/family need to practice regularly to be safe and avoid compromising their future goals online?
4. What can we do to support students as they practice these skills until they become habits and how/when should we gradually remove those supports?
5. Do we as parents and educators model and discuss these habits?
6. How can different grade levels (or, for parents, family sites, such as grandma’s or uncle’s house) our efforts to make sure that support is gradually decreased so that by age eighteen, students will be independent digital citizens?
7. Check out sites like Digital Citizenship.net to help generate ideas.
The fact is, nearly every job either does or will soon require basic online competency. Schools and families can help kids learn the online skills they need in an online environment appropriate for their abilities, or leave them to flounder through and learn the hard way.
Freebie! Here is the Digital Citizenship Guidelines handout I developed for my students:DigitalCitizenshipGuidelinesgeneric