5 Tips for Raising Healthy Digital Citizens
Kids today are born with all kinds of tech at their fingertips. They’re pretty much digital citizens from the moment they’re born. As parents, we can become easily overwhelmed by all the new tech popping up around us and knowing how to guide our kids and help them successfully navigate today’s digital landscape isn’t always easy. That’s why today I want to share with you 5 tips for raising healthy digital citizens. I’ll also link some great resources that I think you’ll find super helpful in guiding your kids through their digital lives.
Now if you’re one of my regular readers here, you know I’m pretty comfortable with my family’s digital lifestyle. I don’t shy away from my kids using technology, I actually encourage it. I see so many benefits to its use, with proper structures in place, of course. That’s where encouraging healthy tech habits and teaching them proper digital citizenship skills comes in.
I find that my children thrive with their use of tech, from my toddler using education apps to learn to read before even entering Kindergarten, to my 11-year-old exploring STEM topics through Minecraft. I’m completely open to my family’s media use. Still, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain things that I often worry about, like how much is too much screen time. Recently I’ve even been thinking a lot about the things I should consider before getting my kid his own phone. I even worry about how my kids will tackle certain situations that may come up in the future, like cyberbullying.
Parenting in the digital age can be challenging to say the least! It really doesn’t matter how tech-savvy you are! There are true and valid concerns that we all need to talk to our kids about. As parents, it’s our job to prepare them for the future as they explore and use technology in their daily lives.
Raising healthy digital citizens, I strongly believe that modeling and teaching proper skills can make all the difference. As parents, we teach our kids how to behave in the real world. We shouldn’t neglect teaching them how to behave in an online world. Therefore, I encourage you to use the tips I’m about to share with you as a way to foster a healthy digital lifestyle and start conversations around what it means to be a good digital citizen. As parents, it’s something we have to prepare them for and teach them about. Then we have to trust that they’ll make the right choices, just as we would expect them to do in their offline lives.
5 Tips for Raising Healthy Digital Citizens
Digital citizenship refers to responsible and appropriate behaviors with regard to the use of technology. Some experts will say that when using technology there are nine elements of digital citizenship. I may not tackle each one of these element here today. Instead I’m sharing with you some of the best strategies (or tips) that I myself have used as a mom raising healthy digital citizens. I think these are working great for me and I think you’ll also find them useful!
1. Be a Good Role Model
This is probably the most important part of raising healthy digital citizens. Lead by example my friends! As with everything in life, kids learn from watching us. They pick up nonverbal cues from us. As a parent, you want to show them that you yourself are leading a healthy digital lifestyle. You want to model how to have a healthy relationship with technology. That means they may see you putting your phone down when it’s dinner time or you might model other times when you put away devices to minimize distractions. You also want to allow your kids to see you building healthy relationships online. Do they see you communicating with others online? Maybe they see you using technology to communicate for work, or with family and friends on social media? Allow them to see what these healthy interactions look like. Even more important, be open to hearing your child share with you the tech habits of yours that they may not like (for example, maybe they’ve seen you answer a text when driving. We all know we shouldn’t do that but the reality is that we’ve all probably done it at some point or other) and be open to working together to co-create solutions to challenges — which brings me to my next tip…
2. Spark Meaningful Conversations
Get your kids talking about how to be safe and responsible digital citizens. Not only how to care for their devices but how to use those devices responsibly in a digital world. Reflect on your family’s media use and talk to your kids about the media they encounter and create. Talk about how much screen time is too much. Talk about how their actions online can affect others. Talk about cyberbullying. Discuss the pros and cons of social media use once they reach an appropriate age. Give kids the tools they need to understand and properly handle instances of Hate Speech they may encounter online. It’s very important to keep the lines of communication open. Create a safe space so your kids will always come to you with questions and concerns about their digital lives.
3. Screen Time Shouldn’t Always be Alone Time
Your kids can learn so much from you but you can also learn so much from them! Get involved in the latest video game craze or sit and watch their favorite YouTube videos together. Let them teach you how to use a new educational app or play an online game together. Instances like this will give you a good glimpse into what your child is doing online and where their interests are. You’ll come to understand the different modes of Minecraft (as I did when I signed us up for Minecraft Camp). You may even find that video games are hard and you’ll gain a new appreciation for your kid’s talent. And diving into your kids pursuits can also help illustrate that not all screen time is the same. How are your kids using their screen time? Screen engagements like these may even lead to an emphasis on creativity and not just consumption.
Even further, create some fun family traditions like family video game night, or YouTube cooking night! Help with online homework assignments and spend time together creating content they might be interested in sharing online — after all, every kid aspires to be a famous YouTuber these days! Shared screen time will give you the opportunity to be in it together!
4. Help Them Find the Right Balance
Help kids assess their own use of devices, social media, texting, gaming, etc. What is screen time being used for? How much time are they spending on their devices? What’s appropriate? Helping them make good decisions is a more effective strategy than trying to dictate their screen time or strictly limiting it because you feel that this will protect them from everything that’s out there. Again, talk about how much screen time is too much! Are there times that should be off-limits (like when it interferes with other activities, including homework and sleep)? Are there consequences for misuse? Encourage a healthy relationship with devices and empower kids to make the right choices about their own screen time.
5. Give Kids Ownership of Their Digital Lives
I know that this may be a hard one — giving up some of your power can be scary — but it’s essential if you are to raise healthy digital citizens! Allowing your kids ownership of their digital lives doesn’t mean that you won’t continue guiding them (you still have knowledge that they don’t yet, and that is your power). Think of yourself as more of a mentor empowering them to become responsible digital citizens. Allow them ownership of their digital lives! Give them the freedom to choose how and when they use their screens! What games they play, what apps they use! Allow them choices! Even mistakes! Because I can’t guarantee that they won’t make them. But I can guarantee that any mistake they do make can be turned into a teachable moment with big learning potential. Also, if you’ve followed tip #2, you’re already having meaningful conversations about tech use with your kids and they’ll feel comfortable talking to you. You’ll be the first person they turn to when they need advice or need help working through a mistake!
Follow these tips and you’re on your way to raising healthy digital citizens!
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