Thing 11

Thing 11. Digital Citizenship


In this Thing, we will be looking at some of the concepts already discussed through the lens of parents and educators of young people, including library staff. Many of these topics fall under the umbrella of Digital Citizenship.The International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) defines a student as a digital citizen when they can “recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.” There are nine elements of digital citizenship, which we’ll be touching on here: digital etiquette, digital literacy, digital rights and responsibilities, digital access, digital communication, digital security, digital law, digital commerce and digital health & wellness. Although these seem like tough topics to talk about with young people, much of their lives is taking place in the digital realm, and as parents and educators, it’s vital that we equip them with the tools to keep their online lives as safe, healthy and productive as possible. 


  • Digital etiquette: Also called “netiquette”, this means to treat others with the same respect online as we would in person. Because we don’t have body language to offer us clues as to how a person is interpreting what we’re saying, it is really easy to say things online to virtual strangers that we would never consider saying to their face. For young people, this may mean reminding them that the language that they use with their friends while texting is probably going to be more informal than the language they use while emailing their teachers. This may also be a time to draw on some executive function skills, specifically self-control; if somebody says something online that causes a strong emotional response, it’s best to walk away and take some time before responding or not respond at all. 
  • Digital literacy: The American Library Association’s Digital Literacy Task Force defines digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” Although we are using different technologies for accessing and creating information, much of digital literacy uses some traditional literacy skills, which includes decoding and comprehending text and images. While we tend to think that digital natives, those born during the age of digital technology, are inherently proficient at using all things technological, most educators know otherwise. Young people may be effectively able to game and use social media, but many struggle to locate high quality information and evaluate sources for credibility. 
  • Digital rights and responsibilities: These are similar to the rights and responsibilities of a citizen living in the U.S. Although the internet may sometimes seem like a place where anything goes, young people still need to be made aware of the rights that they personally have and their responsibility to not infringe upon another person’s rights. For example, they have a right to privacy and can take certain steps to protect themselves from tracking by apps on their phones. They also have the right to receive credit for their own original work and a responsibility to give credit to creators whose work they use. 
  • Digital access: This means having the capability to get online and obtain and share information. When we hear the phrase “digital divide”, it is describing the gap between those who do have digital access and those who don’t. Not having digital access may mean not having internet in the home, not having a computer to use or even not having the right support to help a young person use those tools. According to the Pew Research Center, in April 2020, “59% of parents with lower incomes who had children in schools that were remote due to the pandemic said their children would likely face at least one of three digital obstacles” that they were asked about. These included having to do homework on a smartphone, not having a computer in the home on which to complete homework, or having to do homework on public Wi-Fi due to living in a home with no reliable internet.  
  • Digital communication: Simply, this is the sending of information using technological means. Cell phones, email and social media have made communication more instantaneous, and to a certain extent, allowed many to have a voice online that they may not have had otherwise. Young people have been able to share their opinions on various online platforms, form relationships with people around the world and stay in touch with friends from school beyond the school day. This also means that caregivers of young people need to be on the lookout for instances of cyberbullying and online predators. 
  • Digital security: Digital security can mean a lot of different things, but it essentially can be boiled down to remaining safe online. For young people, it may mean watching out for online scams, not sharing passwords with friends, or learning to back up important information. Not remaining vigilant about protecting their online identity, for example, can have harmful real-life consequences. 
  • Digital commerce: This is the buying and selling of goods online, and unlike in brick and mortar stores, where there is typically an avenue for returning items, this isn’t always the case while shopping online, particularly when buying from third-party sellers on sites like Amazon. Researching before making a purchase is crucial. Young people also need to know about the potential for identity theft while making purchases online. 
  • Digital health and wellness: The number of hours that young people spend in front of screens continues to increase, and this can have detrimental effects on their health. According to an article published in Preventive Medicine Reports in 2018, in a study of 2- to 17-year-olds, beyond one hour of screen time, more hours of daily use “were associated with lower psychological well-being, including less curiosity, lower self-control, more distractibility, more difficulty making friends, and less emotional stability among others issues. Although a technology-free life is probably not possible or even warranted at this point in time, maintaining a balance between leisure screen time and leisure time without screens may help protect our young people’s mental well-being.


The following videos approach digital citizenship from an educational perspective. 

Digital Citizen | ISTE (5:03)

Kid, you posted What?! How to raise a digital citizen | TEDxOmaha (11:33)


This is a good primer with usable tips that parents can use for supporting their children in becoming good digital citizens. 

What is Digital Citizenship? – A Guide for Parents | infotracer

This article discusses how to help your child have a healthier relationship with their social media accounts. 

Worried About Your Teen on Social Media? Here’s How to Help  | New York Times

A discussion about how mis-information is actually threatening our democracy. 

Reimagining Digital Literacy Education to Save Ourselves | Learning for Justice

A great resource for teens to see teens at work fact-checking some controversial news stories. 

Teen Fact-Checking Network | Poynter 


These games are geared towards students in grades 3rd-8th. 

Safe Online Surfing | FBI

A fun way for kids to explore safe ways to interact online. 

Be Internet Awesome | Google 

Listen to an episode of this podcast and talk about what you learned in the comments below. 

The Mind Online | Learning for Justice

Another game geared towards 6th-8th graders about digital citizenship.

Digital Compass | Common Sense Education

This simulation allows young people to test out social media in a safe (consequence-free) environment. 

Social Media Test Drive

Conversation Starters

From Mary Mehsikomer’s presentation, “What’s New in Digital Citizenship?”:

Google your name. Do you see something you don’t like or surprises you? How positive is your digital footprint?

What is your biggest concern about digital citizenship? What can you do about it?


Additional Resources

Digital Citizenship | Things Explained  |  PBS LearningMedia–technology/technological-literacy/digital-citizenship/

Google’s new media literacy program teaches kids how to spot disinformation and fake news | TechCrunch

Teaching Media Literacy Isn’t Optional These Days | MiddleWeb

Real Media Literacy: Spotting a Fake Story | MiddleWeb 

Fake News: Recommendations | Media Literacy Clearinghouse

Civic Online Reasoning Course | Stanford History Education Group

Digital Citizenship Conversations | Casady School 

Parents’ Ultimate Guide to… | Common Sense Media

TikTok, Snapchat, Roblox

“Into the Cloud” | NetSmartz

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