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Digital citizenship training must continue forward as an ongoing conversation between all members of a school and its community

Is it time to double down on digital citizenship training?


Digital citizenship training must continue forward as an ongoing conversation between all members of a school and its community

About a week ago, my 5-year-old daughter asked me a question I was not quite prepared for. As we were walking back to our house from the neighborhood park, she asked, “Daddy, when am I going to get a cell phone?”

She went on to explain the specific ways in which a cell phone would benefit her life. She even assured me that she wasn’t too young for a cell phone. In fact, other kids her age already had one! Even though it was difficult saying no to her sweet little face, I explained that she would need to wait a few more years to take on this type of responsibility. But, why?

My daughter’s question really got me thinking. With so many young people having increasing access to technology, is it time for schools to take digital citizenship training more seriously? 

What is digital citizenship?

Before we dive into why digital citizenship is important, let’s begin with discussing what it is. In a nutshell, digital citizenship is the safe and responsible practice of using digital technologies. All people who interact with digital technologies are digital citizens, however, responsible digital citizens are those who understand the potential risks and issues that can arise when using technology (LillyWhite, 2021). Responsible digital citizens desire to use technology respectfully, safely, and productively. Digital citizenship has been divided into nine key focus areas which include: digital access, digital etiquette, digital law, digital communication, digital literacy, digital commerce, digital rights and responsibilities, digital safety and security, and digital health and wellness (Ribble, 2021). 

Why is digital citizenship important?

Due to the rise and accessibility of digital technology, more young people than ever have increasing access to it. As recent as 2019, one study found that 98.1 percent of U.S. kids between the ages of 3 and 18 lived in a household with a computer or smartphone (Riser-Kositsky, 2022). Beyond this, a greater number of school districts are moving toward 1:1 and BYOD initiatives due to a collective desire to help students gain the 21st century skills required for success in the digital age (Stauffer, 2022). 

Considering the sharp increase in student access to technology, school leaders must become more aware of the need to equip their students with digital citizenship skills. Digital citizenship training helps students understand more than a simple set of technology skills; it helps them become safer and more responsible when online as well as helping them become more discerning regarding their digital interactions, digital engagement, and digital footprint (Copeland-Whyte, 2019).

Does digital citizenship have a place in the classroom?

The most sensible place for students to receive digital citizenship training is right in their classroom. In fact, digital citizenship curriculums like the one from Common Sense Education offer easy to implement lessons from grades K-12 that touch on all nine digital citizenship focus areas (Common Sense Education, n.d.). Digital citizenship practices in classrooms must aim to increase each student’s ability to live in a world full of digital technology by helping them understand how technology can and should be used to be a responsible citizen in both the physical and digital worlds (Ribble, 2011). 

The problem is, too many school districts have placed powerful technology tools in the hands of their students without adequate or proper training. This is a tremendous disservice to each member of a school’s community as it sets students up to fail and places the school in a reactive, not proactive, stance. When it comes to digital citizenship, it’s important for schools to move forward toward the future they desire to see. With this in mind, it’s time for school leaders to take digital citizenship training seriously and to ensure their students are being adequately prepared for the technologically driven world that awaits them. 

Does digital citizenship training take time?

In terms of effective digital citizenship training, it’s important to note that its principles cannot be taught overnight. Educators must take a long view approach and should understand that effective digital citizenship training happens over the course of years, not days.

Digital citizenship training must continue forward as an ongoing conversation between all members of a school and its community. Like so many aspects of equipping students for a successful future, proper digital citizenship training “takes a village.” It’s never too late to implement digital citizenship training in a school–but remember, the biggest mistake a school can make is to ignore it altogether.

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