We are All Digital Citizens

This post was written by Shimira Williams, founder of TekStart and a featured panelist at Media Literacy in Early Childhood: A Critical Conversation.

We are all digital citizens!

No matter, how much you engage with technology, you are a digital citizen. And it’s our responsibility to build future digital citizens that will shape our digital communities and create future digital tools. Take a moment and think about the evolution of how we listen to and create music.

When I was eight years old, I got a record player, and my mom taught me all about how to take care of it and my albums (LPs). At eleven years old, I got an upgrade to a stereo with a record player, radio, microphone line and dual tape cassette deck.  Now, I could make mix tapes.  For my first trip on an airplane, my family got me a portable CD player.  In my senior year at college, I got a CD burner for my computer. At one point I owned 60 GB of music, today I primarily listen to music via a streaming service. The digital tools I use to listen or create music have evolved. At each point, I had to learn the nuances of the new digital tool. In a desire to learn more, I branched out from home into the community and started visiting my local library.

photo courtesy of Shimira Williams

I doubt when my parents purchased the record player they could imagine; in the future, I would be to create a playlist of my favorite songs and listen to them via wireless earphones from the connection to phone in my pocket. Online and in real life parents are a child’s first teachers. How you use your devices is reflected in your child’s play.  Giving the rest of the world a glimpse into your digital habits along with what shows up your web search results.

A few years ago my sister posts this picture to Facebook with the caption “ I can’t believe our little princess will be four soon.  #shewasworking #yesthatsadoublestrollerandlaptop #girlpower. ”

The picture got 38 likes, and seven comments, one being me

“Modeling mommy…”  In reply to one comment, my sister wrote “Lol. I bet. It’s interesting to see how they perceive us. She [Jael] sees me with the double stroller, laptop, keys, cell phone, and saying I’m working” – J. Smith

More recently, I had an awesome auntie weekend with four children three of them were under seven years old and other was 17. The last question, I asked the parents before they left for the weekend was how much screen-time are the children allowed.  “The kindergartens each get two hours per weekend, and the teenager has to unplug by 1 am.” Is that all screens or just television?

You are the architect of the digital ecosystem for the child/children you interact with using media and digital tools.

Regardless of how you construct your digital ecosystem, its foundation should be built on research-based resources. While there are varying opinions, everyone agrees that we should make it a habit to unplug/disconnect from your technology, so you can refresh/recharge. Do what works for you and your environment. In my classroom, there was a docking station to charge technology when it was in use; you can create one at home too.  However, I try to use features built-in to the device, like Airplane Mode or Do Not Disturb. By far, Do Not Disturb is a favorite method because it allows me to enable the function on-demand or schedule.

Three Media Mentor Tips for getting started in media literacy education with young children:

As adults, we are the gatekeeper for how much access a child has to digital tools and the personal data of a child. With the uptick in data breaches we are forced to consider who, what, why and how data is being collected, shared and stored.

  • Be proactive about digital privacy rights. Before installing apps review what type of data access you allow. Take a moment to do a privacy and security check on your digital ecosystem.

Before we let a child play in an environment, we tend to explore the landscape and its surrounding. Do the same with digital tools, before handing it over to a child. And like at the playground sometimes you need to join in, and sometimes you can observe. Embrace the moments of observation as a window in a child’s voice.

  • It’s important to understand how and why a child is interacting with a digital tool through their lens. Ask them to teach you how to play. It’s empowering for both parties and can spark a robust conversation.

Extend your relationship into your digital world.  First, make a connection through a shared consumption experience like listening to an audiobook together.  Once trust is established, shift to co-creating, sometimes you lead, other times you need to follow your child’s lead.

  • Turn a moment into memory with media and Let your camera roll be a child’s soundtrack with collaborations from their community.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the video is priceless. Think about an old family photo and how different story people tell about it. Technology, allows us to amplify the storytelling, no longer do we have to guess when and where a picture. Video allows the people to tell their own story. Once we share it with our community, we solicit contributing narratives, via comments, reactions and call to actions.

The Internet has changed how and where we build community, but libraries continue to a community anchor.  A library card continues to magnify our exposure to different cultures and spaces while creating space to gather for shared experiences.

  • Get to know your librarian; they still serve as trusted community members of information. Many libraries are leading efforts to address the digital divide through skills programming and lending initiatives. Now libraries are interconnected, allowing our access to information and digital tools beyond what’s available at your local branch.

While where, what, how, and who we can access has evolved. At the core, it’s still human to human relationships co-existing in communities online and in real life. As citizens, we must ask why are we creating, connecting, communicating, and collaborating and how does it build our communities. Because it will dictate what digital tools future generations create.

Shimira Williams is an initiator of play and professional development experiences that kick-start technology education for children and their families. Williams builds a community around integrating digital tools to amplify people’s voice and empowers them to be creators. She thinks the best use of technology happens when the experience is over, and people integrate it into their play and productivity.

You can find her online at www.tekstart.org or via Twitter @tekstart