Digital Literacy and Citizenship: Why are they important for your child?

What is digital literacy and citizenship?

Digital literacy is the ability to use digital tools safely and effectively for communicating, collaborating and learning. Digital tools include devices, web browsers, apps, social media and other technology.  The term ‘digital citizenship’ is slightly broader. It incorporates aspects of digital literacy, but is also defined as the norms of acceptable and appropriate behaviour when using technology. 

Why are they important?

Since technology is destined to be part of your child’s life well into adulthood, digital literacy and citizenship is crucial. Your child might know how to use a device, app or programme, but they might not understand the importance of ethical behaviour or taking responsibility for their actions online.  Digitally literate kids understand that their online activity can impact their lives in the future. Anything they share online ought to be considered public, and could be found by teachers, potential employers and others years later.  Children and teens who are digitally literate are also more likely to use technology safely, responsibly and ethically.  They are also more likely to adapt to situations that require them to use technology more frequently, such as switching to remote learning during the recent global pandemic or using social media and the Internet in university.

How can I encourage digital literacy and citizenship at home?

  • Explore the online world together
Even if you are nervous about technology, set aside some time with your child to explore age-appropriate apps, sites and tools. Allow them to experiment with these online tools while you supervise them.  To ensure you don’t encounter any inappropriate content along the way, make sure the device, apps and tools that your child uses have parental controls switched on.
  • Talk to them about staying safe
Before your child goes online, talk to them about online safety first. Agree on rules to protect your child from inappropriate content, cyberbullying and other dangers. You should also chat to them about creating strong passwords and enabling privacy settings. It’s also important to be aware of the age restrictions of each app, platform or game your child wants to use. If they’re too young to have an Instagram account, don’t allow them to create one and explain why you made that decision.  Of course, always remind your child that they can come to you whenever they need help with something online.   
  • Show them how to use devices and platforms responsibly 
Once your child agrees to safety rules, make sure they know what behaviour is acceptable and what isn’t.   Explain that the simple act of ‘liking’ a post that is designed to hurt another person is a form of cyberbullying. Remind them that their posts and photos should be appropriate, positive and respectful.   
  • Help them understand their rights and responsibilities
Everyone has a right to feel safe online. If your child is being cyberbullied or harassed, they ought to know to tell you or a trusted adult.  It’s important that your child knows how to respect other people online. Even if they don’t directly engage in cyberbullying, they should not share the personal information of another person without their permission. Impersonating someone, sending spam or hacking into someone else’s online accounts is also unacceptable.  They should also know that downloading music, videos, books and other material illegally or without permission is not okay.   
  • Work to improve your digital literacy and citizenship
Teaching your child how to be a great digital citizen is a step forward. However, it’s also important to take some time to reflect on your own behaviour online and think about how it could influence your child? Do you spend hours online every day? Are you sometimes disrespectful to others online? Do you take steps to protect your online privacy as much as possible? If so, how can you set a better example? No matter what rules you expect your child to obey, remember they will always look to you for guidance – online and offline. 

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