Digital Citizenship for Children: Understanding the Role of Parents, Guardians, and Educators

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In a society that depends mostly on the internet, children who use digital devices face risks. According to Kaspersky Lab, children who use the internet face seven possible dangers: cyberbullying, cyber predators, invasion of privacy through private information, phishing, scams, accidental malware download, and posts that later harm the child. At the same time, opportunities abound for children in the digital space such as access to world-class learning through MOOCs, open educational resources, being able to participate in and contribute to global communities that tackle critical issues such as climate change, and build an understanding of different cultures, people and countries.

The Importance of Digital Citizenship

Society’s use of technology has become an integral part of how the world works today. Many technological breakthroughs have made their way towards children’s lives, thus making digital citizenship a key concept in children’s lifestyles.

UNESCO defines digital citizenship as “being able to find, access, use, and create information effectively, engage with other users and with content in an active, critical, sensitive, and ethical manner; and navigate the online and ICT environment safely and responsibly, being aware of one’s own rights.” 

The importance of digital citizenship does not only revolve around one’s safety but also the digital environment of all technology users. Since people use technology for research, collaboration, and convenience, it is no surprise that issues may arise. The irresponsible use of technology could lead to risks such as revealing one’s location or to a child finding inappropriate content from search results.

Through responsible digital citizenship, internet users can enjoy the benefits of technology without compromising their welfare and safety.

What It Means to Be a Digital Citizen

UNESCO’s definition of digital citizenship served as a guide to develop the UNESCO DKAP Framework for Education. Consisting of five domains, the framework was created based on a child-centered approach:

  1. Digital Literacy
  2. Digital Safety and Resilience
  3. Digital Participation and Agency
  4. Digital Emotional Intelligence
  5. Digital Creativity and Innovation

These five domains of digital citizenship present a comprehensive structure for the holistic development of a young digital citizen.

Roles in the Digital World

children usingtablet

Children must understand and apply what it means to be a digital citizen. However, they must not do it alone. Parents, educators, companies, and the government all play a role in maintaining children’s safety and responsibility online.

Contrary to what many parents believe, keeping children away from digital devices is not an effective way to educate them about safety. Andrea Hargrave, Director-General of the London-based International Institute of Communications, said “parents are caught between a rock and a hard place but you don’t just stop them from using [the internet] completely because I don’t think you would want to do that. Just as children need to learn how to cross the road, they need to learn how to navigate the digital world.”

Parents must understand that education and critical interaction – as opposed to restriction – plays a crucial role in developing children’s online behavior. 

Beyond what parents teach children at home, teachers and educators also play a key role in guiding children to become digital citizens. In light of the Education 2030 agenda, it is recommended that media literacy education be integrated into the education system.

Apart from explaining digital safety, educators must also teach online empathy to children to reduce cyberbullying. In addition to this, educators must teach children to think critically, do proper research, understand the tools they encounter, and identify legitimate news from fake ones.

As manifested in the DKAP Framework, digital citizenship requires going beyond security and safety; children must also learn self-expression and introspection alongside positive interaction with others. To support this, adults must introduce a holistic approach to digital citizenship in policies, education programs, and even children’s day-to-day. 

Learn how you can support DKAP. Download the research tool kit here.

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