Young people spend much of their lives in front of a screen, and with the pandemic, that time has increased substantially.

Yet, few young people are taught how to be good citizens online, let alone how to balance the time they spend online with all the other parts of life—like sleeping, mealtimes, exercise, and face-to-face time with family and friends.

Learning how to be a citizen of the digital world may be the most important thing for a young person to learn today.

What is Digital Citizenship?

We live in an age when we are as much a citizen of the online world as we are of our town, state, or country. In a captivating TED Talk, the CEO of Citizen University, Eric Lui, describes civics as “the art of being a pro-social, problem solving contributor in a self-governing community.”

I love this definition and can’t think of any communities more “self-governing” than those online. Can you?

Consider the social media communities where youth hang out, share information, and spend the bulk of their time—like TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, and so forth.

These communities are largely devoid of parents, internet police, crossing guards, or even rules to keep their users in line or safe. Kids are left to their own devices to figure out how to be a good citizen in places like these.

Lui further explains civics by quoting Microsoft founder Bill Gates’s father, Bill Gates Sr., who says civics is “simply showing up for life.”

I love that descriptor, too, and especially the three things Lui says it encompasses:

  • A foundation of values
  • An understanding of the systems that make the world go round
  • A set of skills that allow you to pursue goals, and have others join in that pursuit.

These are three capacities we aim to equip students with through a comprehensive curriculum called “Cyber Civics.”  By guiding kids through a series of discussions and activities surrounding a range of technology-related topics, they become digitally literate.

This holistic approach to possibly the most important skill kids needs today, given the time they spend with tech, achieves an important end. It arms them with the superpowers they’ll need to keep themselves safe and be, well, super–online and off.

What is Digital Literacy?

Digital literacy “is more than technological know-how. It includes a wide variety of ethical, social, and reflective practices that are embedded in work, learning, leisure, and daily life,” according to Canada’s MediaSmarts.

Cyber Civics teaches students to be digitally-literate through a three-year series of weekly activities that cover the entire spectrum of digital literacy. It includes lessons in:

  • Digital Citizenship (the safe and responsible use of digital tools).
  • Information Literacy (how to find, retrieve, analyze, and use online information).
  • Media Literacy for Positive Participation (using critical thinking to analyze media messages, including “fake news”).

The entire curriculum is available online, so teachers can easily download lessons that they deliver in the classroom. All lessons include interactive activities, hands-on projects, problem solving scenarios, and role-play.

As of this writing, schools in 48 U.S. states (and seven other countries) teach Cyber Civics to their students, and the program continues to grow. Today there is even a book–Raising Humans in the Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship With Technology (HarperCollins Leadership) that tells the Cyber Civics story.

Too Important To Ignore

No matter what a child’s future brings, you can be sure it will include using digital tools.

Given all the things they need to know in order to use them well (online reputation management, learning balance, privacy protection, fake news, cyberbullying, sexting, porn, online predators, media misrepresentation.... need I go on?), it is imperative that every child receives an education in digital literacy.

Please contact us if we can help you help your kids learn how to become digitally literate.

Post contributed by Diana Graber, founder of CyberCivics and author of Raising Humans In A Digital World.