How to Bring Digital Citizenship to Your Child's School

This week many schools across the country will celebrate Digital Citizenship Week, an effort spearheaded by Common Sense Media to bring national attention to the importance of focusing time, energy and resources to educating children about what it means to be a Digital Citizen. This week is particularly meaningful to me not just an a Digital Media Educator, but as a mom.  A year ago, with the support of a group of volunteer parents I spearheaded an effort to bring Digital Citizenship to my children’s elementary school.  We live in an increasingly tech driven world, and while many of us shield our young children from too much time spent on devices, readying them for the world they will soon enter is become more and more critical.  As Common Sense Media puts it:

“Digital citizens think critically about what they see online and learn to make their own smart choices online and in life. That means understanding the benefits and risks of sharing information, knowing the difference between a credible news source and a sponsored ad, and balancing screen time with other activities. Cultivating these skills is essential for anyone to thrive in today's increasingly tech-driven world. But digital citizens aren't born -- they're taught…”

If your child is at a school that already has a Digital Citizenship program like this in place - fantastic - you’re ahead of the game. But, if your child’s school has not yet devoted resources to teaching Digital Citizenship fear not, there is much you as a parent can do to lead the way. Here are some ideas:

  • Go to your school’s PTA or PTO as well as the Principal and approach them with the idea of starting a parent led Digital Citizenship Committee.  This can be a place for parents to come learn through Parent Ed, a place to create and research curriculum for the school, or a place to meet and create events like Digital Citizenship Week activities.

  • Once you’ve gotten the green light for your committee, consider recruiting a teacher rep. Every school has at least a few teachers who are tech savvy and interested in the subject of Digital Citizenship. If you eventually want to bring a real curriculum to the school you’ll need teacher support. You may eventually also want to have a few student reps included to make it a really holistic representation of the school.

  • Plan your first meeting and start getting the word out. Send out flyers and mass emails inviting the parent body and school staff to come to your first Digital Citizenship Committee informational meeting. Don’t be afraid to solicit like minded parents,  friends and teachers who believe Digital Citizenship ought to be a critical part of the school’s educational plan.

  • Set out your long term goals as well as short term ones. For example you may long term want your school to become Common Sense Media Certified or adopt another official curriculum, but in the short term, while you research those,  you could focus on some interesting Parent Ed nights (see suggestions below) and ways to observe Digital Citizenship Week.

  • As a committee you may want to come up with a Digital Citizenship Pledge for your students. Many schools have school pledges - a Digital Citizenship Pledge is all about holding oneself and one’s community accountable for their behavior online.

  • Lastly, come up with a monthly meeting schedule and set up a Shutterfly or some other kind of share site to allow people to become members, read your latest news, see your calendar of upcoming events and receive reminders for meetings.

Setting up a Digital Citizenship Committee at your child’s school does not need to be a big endeavor right off the bat, but it’s a wonderful way to get the parents and teachers communicating with kids about these ever present and important issues. In this day and age it takes a village to raise a Global Citizen.

Here are a few ideas for Parent Ed topics you could bring to your child’s school:

Parent Ed Topics:

  • Have an expert come in to talk to parents about best practices for raising healthy and smart kids in the digital world.

  • Bring in a speaker from your police department’s cyber crimes division

  • Gather an “expert”  panel of teens and do a Q&A for parents

  • Show the movie Screenagers and follow up with a group discussion