Early Digital Citizenship: Creating Engaged and Informed Lifetime Citizens
Digital citizenship has been on the tips of everyone’s Twitter thumbs this week for Digital Citizenship Week 2018. Digital Citizenship has also been at the top of headlines for a number of reasons including cyberbullying, U.S. 2016 Presidential Election, the Parkland, Florida school shooting and March for Our Lives, the rise of the term “fake news”, as well as concerns about the rights of children, including privacy and safety. It seems that everyone is on the same page: digital citizenship skills are critical in childhood. Digital citizenship should be taught to children to support the development of fully engaged and informed citizens.
The Technology in Early Childhood Center advocates for and supports the high-quality and developmentally appropriate use of technology and digital media use with young children. Digital citizenship should be fostered and facilitated with young children in order to ensure high quality and developmentally appropriate use of technology and digital media.
While learning about digital citizenship, often educators realize they are already facilitating many of the skills in their early childhood setting such as warning students to be careful about what they post online or encouraging students to be nice to others. These questions and explanations serve as a guide for a beginning understanding of digital citizenship.
What is digital citizenship?
Digital Citizenship expert, Mike Ribble, defines digital citizenship as,
“The norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use.“ – Mike Ribble
Watch Common Sense Media video “What is Digital Citizenship?” to learn more.
NOTE: Media Literacy and Digital Citizenship are often confused and are related. Read Media Literacy in Early Childhood: A Critical Conversation report from TEC Center and NAMLE to learn more about media literacy.
What does the “citizenship” part of “digital citizenship” refer to?
Digital citizenship and citizenship are not that different! Simply put, citizenship is digital citizenship without digital tools. Encyclopaedia Britannica defines citizenship as
Refer to the International Society for Technology in Education infographic, Citizenship in the Digital Age to compare elements of being a good citizen with elements of being a good digital citizen.
How are young children citizens?
From birth, children are citizens of the world. They are influential members of their communities. As an infant, they cry for food, thus influencing their caregiver’s actions. As a toddler, they take a ball from another toddlerand influences that toddlers emotions. As they gain more experience with the community around them, they develop assumptions about their power and ability to influence others actions and thoughts. On the other side of the same coin, they begin to understand how others perceive them. An African-American preschool student soon learns that questioning their teacher often ends in a punishment.
These early experiences shape a child’s understanding of their citizenship and their sense of community. In these early years, adults and digital media also shape a child’s understanding of their citizenship and sense of community. About 40% of children ages birth to 8 have their own tablet and 98% have a smartphone in their home. There’s no doubt that these experiences with digital media shape a child’s perception of citizenship (Ohme, 2018).
Often, early childhood is left out of the digital citizenship conversation. As a result, educators and families are left wondering how to support young children. There are many early skills that support the development of digital citizenship skills and the ability to become digital citizens. These skills are not restricted to a digital platform.
Here are 5 ways adults support children’s citizenship in the early years:
- Form the habit of asking before posting.
- While it’s tempting to post online all the adorable things your child or student does, from an early age, children must learn that they too have rights. Children deserve input in what is posted about them online because those posts are creating their digital footprint. Watch Common Sense Education’s clip, What’s in Your Digital Footprint? to learn more.
- Be critical about digital media content and be transparent about it.
- Most educational apps are not research-based, so be honest, critical and transparent with your child when choosing apps. This may later lead to your child critically evaluating and choosing apps best for them.
- Create an e-book that is intentional and accurately represents cultures and communities.
- In the first couple years of life, children develop assumptions about gender norms and form preferences for people who look like their caregivers, family, and friends. This means children are creating expectations based on gender and race. This is why it’s critical to break stereotypes and accurately represent cultures and communities. One way to do this is to create your own e-book with your child/student(s) and have an open conversation about characters, plots, and settings. Read these Play and Lesson Plans developed by our TEC Mentors, for ideas on how to get started.
- Include children in the decision-making process when making your Family Media Plan.
- Families and educators should include children in the decision making when creating limits and guidelines for technology and media use at school and at home. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a great resource, the Family Media Plan, that the whole family can discuss and create together.
- Model being an intentional citizen online and offline.
- Be a digital citizenship role model for children. Talk to children about making intentional decisions online and offline. Think out-loud with your child about what you’re posting, commenting, and creating online. With the average amount of screen time spent daily for children 0- to 8-years-old at 2 hours and 19 minutes (Rideout, V. (2017), families and educators must model digital citizenship.
How are organizations advocating for digital citizenship education in K-12?
- The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) published their first blog post about Digital Citizenship, “3 ways to weave digital citizenship into your curriculum” in 2014.
- Near the end of the 2016 U.S Presidential election, Mike Ribble proclaimed in a 2016 ISTE blog post that “digital citizenship is more important than ever”.
- Common Sense Education claims over 500,000 educators use their digital citizenship resources worldwide. These digital citizenship lessons were designed and developed by Common Sense Education in partnership with Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
- Edutopia has published numerous digital citizenship blog posts which include tips and advice for educators, direct service providers, and caregivers.
The “citizenship” elements of digital citizenship rely on Civic Identity Development in early childhood. As we lead with child development knowledge and expertise, we must explore how civic identity and the value of how civic duty develops in childhood. Civic Identity Development in early childhood informs and serves as the foundation to later digital citizenship. When early childhood professionals better understand how technology and digital media play a role in citizenship, they can be advocates by raising, educating, and empowering young children to appropriately utilize technology and digital media for civic engagement.
Ohme, J. (2018). Updating citizenship? The effects of digital media use on citizenship understanding and political participation. Information, Communication & Society, 1-26. doi:10.1080/1369118x.2018.1469657
Rideout, V. (2017). The Common Sense census: Media use by kids age zero to eight.
San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media.