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Everything you ever wanted to know about Digital Citizenship*

Is this title misleading? You bet! This blog post unfortunately does not contain everything that you need to know about Digital Citizenship (aka: DigCit). But, haven't I read somewhere that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet? (I know my Shakespearean friends out there are either sighing or very upset right now by my lackadaisical reference)... but what is in a name or title? As it turn out-quite a bit!! The title for this very blog post was created by a clickbait generator (see: You see my friends, digital citizenship and media literacy are hot button issues right now in November 2020, but are not new to education. So, why use a clickbait generator to create the title of this piece? First, I wanted you, gentle reader, to know that this is out there (You can fill in the reason why yourself knowing our current state of 2020). Also, I wanted to highlight that there are so many facets of Digital Citizenship/Media Literacy that we may not have even considered.

So what is Digital Citizenship? I can give you the long answer, but here is a working definition that my colleague Joe Fuertsch and I collaborated on (@JoeFuertsch on Twitter): "Promoting Digital Citizenship means empowering our students to think critically and behave safely...and participate responsibly in our digital world." This is my favorite definition. It is short and to the point and says it all.

But what does this Digital Citizenship look like in the real world for our students?

I had to have a very uncomfortable and meaningful "DigCit" conversation with my own two boys this past week. They have a good friend that is also a "gamer" (read: really, really into video games). During the course of an online gaming session their friend (I will call him Rex to protect his identity) was approached in the game via chat by a person that said she was a 14 year old girl. They began to chat during the game and soon this "girl" asked Rex for his email address and phone number so they could continue this chat outside of the game. Rex was ecstatic!! He really liked what this girl was saying to him (very flattering and very nice comments...nothing abusive or unseemly...yet), so he gladly complied. Almost immediately, this "girl" began to call him/text him/email him on the hour, every hour. Rex became alarmed, but didn't know what to do. She was so nice, right?? Finally, he told his parents what was happening after WEEKS of this communication (which had turned very nasty and abusive after he stopped answering "her" communication). Finally, when "she" told Rex via text that she was going to harm herself if he didn't meet her in real life, he tearfully went to his parents.

What did his parents discover? This was not a 14 year old girl. The number could not be verified that it belonged to anyone. They also discovered that the "grooming" techniques that were evident to adults, were very subtly and subversively being used against their son. Are you properly horrified yet? How does this happen to a young man that has involved parents and teachers, has had digital citizenship lessons sporadically in school, and by all rights should "know better." Where did the DigCit lessons go wrong?

This is not the blame game. There is no one at fault here (except whoever was on the other end of that phone/email). Should Rex have "known better?" Would adults fall for this as well? Those are BIG questions! You can find out more about how teens/tweens interact and perceive technology in the 2019 CommonSense Media Census of Teen/Tween Media Use. Some key findings include "On average, 8- to 12-year-olds in this country use just under five hours’ worth of entertainment screen media per day (4:44), and teens use an average of just under seven and a half hours’ worth (7:22)—not including time spent using screens for school or homework." As well as, "The vast majority of young people don’t use tools to track their screen time—nor do their parents." (CommonSense Media, 2019) These stats are from BEFORE the COVID-19 pandemic! I am not calling out parents or teachers and blaming anyone, but our awareness/interactions with digital citizenship and our students can certainly be examined.

When I spoke to my own boys about what happened to Rex, I was shocked. I thought for sure that they would both be 1) properly horrified/outraged and 2) know better than Rex. Oh, was I wrong! My high school-age son was almost entirely un-phased by the story. He said generally, "Yeah, there are a lot of creeps out there. What are you gonna do?" My middle school-age son was more cautious in his response. He was genuinely concerned and confused that a person (adult) would pretend to be a teen. He couldn't wrap his head around why someone would do that. As his mom, this was shocking to me. Haven't we gone over "stranger danger!" a million times??? This lead to a long and very in-depth mature conversation that led to tears on both of our sides.

An Educator/Parent's reflection:

Upon reflection, I realize now that I had not every really spoken directly (or in great detail) to either of my children about digital safety or digital citizenship as a whole. (I know...the irony) I had maintained that we have covered basic rules and regulations for phones/gaming/etc. and that my children should, you know, "know better." They knew "not to take candy from a stranger in real life" so that should transfer to the online world, right? If anything, this really illustrated for me the need to really embed digital citizenship and media literacy into every aspect of our lives-both at home and at school. The challenge is how we can create a culture of digital citizenship in and out of the classroom; one where we can ensure that our students (and our own children) have the capacity to think critically and behave safely in a digital world.

Where to go from here?

Where to start?? I would love to tell you that I have a magic answer for this. Alas, I do not have THE answer. But, I do have resources! This list is one that I gave Rex's mother when she asked for DigCit resources (side note: did I mention Rex's mother is also in education as well?). Please feel free to share this list or make a copy for yourself. I hope that the resources will help wherever you are at in your DigCit Adventures. (Please note: I do am not compensated by/sponsored or endorsed by any of these resources.)

You can make your own copy of the resource sheet: link here (Thank you in advance for adhering to my creative commons license (I am trying to keep all materials I post free). *I am not sure why the formatting is off on the sample above, but it is correct on the downloadable copy.*

If you want to know more about Digital Citizenship/Media Literacy Trainings that I offer, please do not hesitate to reach out:

GIF Credit: Giphy

Cover Image Credit: UnSplash

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