Expert tips for raising kids to be good digital citizens

Running from Oct. 15 to 19, Digital Citizenship Week is devoted to promoting the importance of thinking critically about online content as well as being responsible and making good choices online. We asked Jill Murphy, editor-in-chief at Common Sense Media, a nonprofit devoted to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology, for advice on raising good digital citizens.

She acknowledged that parenting kids in our technology-saturated world can certainly feel complicated but offered reassurance. “It doesn’t have to be that complicated,” she says. “You don’t have to know all the details, but you do need to know if your kid is nice to people online and what they like to look at and if their homework is done.”

Murphy encourages parents to spend the time figuring out parental controls and setting limits before permitting kids to use a device or a platform like Netflix or YouTube. For example, on YouTube, parents can turn off autoplay and subscribe to channels that they’re okay with kids watching. “Putting in the work up front helps you avoid the pitfalls and gets to the point where kids can enjoy what they’re watching and not fighting about it or regretting their choices,” she explains. 

She strongly recommends parents engage with kids, both talking with them and also watching and playing what delights them.

“Engage with your kid over the media they’re consuming. It’s a great way for you to get insight into how it’s impacting them and what they’re observing,” she recommends. Doing so gives parents an opportunity to encourage critical thinking by having kids break down what they’re consuming. A side benefit with younger children is that studies show they get more out of educational programming when lessons are discussed with an adult as opposed to just passively watching by themselves.

In addition to meeting your kids where they are at online, explain to them what you’re doing and be a good role model. When using your phone, narrate what you’re doing, whether it’s reading the news, texting to their grandmother, replying to an invitation or sending a birthday message. Also show them the power of the internet, including examples of kids using it for good and rallying to help others and promote causes that can happen in passionate online communities online.

Parents shouldn’t pressure themselves to be perfect when it comes to handling technology, according to Murphy. “If you missed an opportunity, it’s okay. That happens to all of us. But go back, start over, talk about rules, what’s okay and not okay.” She reminds adults that it’s never too late to insert your values.

We asked her what parents can do prepare their kids of all ages to be good digital citizens from toddlers through teens. Here are her tips:

Ages 2-4

  • Sit with your kids as they go online to make sure they’re finding age-appropriate material.

Ages 5-7

  • Review which personal information should not be shared (name, home address, parents’ names, whether you’re a boy or a girl).
  • Encourage acceptance of and respect for people who are different by exposing your child to media that includes people of different backgrounds.

Ages 8-9

  • How should your kid respond to bullies? Talk about why people act out. It may be for attention, it may be because people know they can get away with it, or it may be because the hater is just mean-spirited. Help your kid realize that the comments say more about the troll than they do about your kid.
  • Many kids around this age don’t realize the difference between joking and bullying—so make sure to talk about how it feels to be the target of unwanted “humor.”

Ages 10-12

  • If your kid is being cyberbullied, try this: collect more facts by talking the situation through with your kid. Work out a plan of action together. Make sure you and your kid agree on what the outcome should be. Ramp up your efforts as the situation demands.
  • If you find out that your child has been bullying others online, come up with a plan to address the damages, including apologizing to those who have been hurt and limiting the use of digital devices.

Ages 13+

  • Explain to teens that even messages and photos that promise to self-delete can be saved and shared by others.
  • If your kid is the target of hostile online play, he or she should block the offending player, flag the behavior and report the player.

Follow Shannan’s blog, Between Us Parents

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