We have spoken before about what defines a good digital citizen, and today we will extrapolate some more on that definition to include some new emerging trends. To recap, digital citizenship encompasses the ability to operate and “be” in the online world in a responsible manner that demonstrates respect for others, as well as their rights to privacy and safety.


Read more: DOs and DON’Ts of teaching digital citizenship


Good digital citizens typically:

  • Use technology legally
  • Use content legally
  • Use technology in a positive way
  • Don’t troll or abuse others online
  • Don’t post pictures of others without permission

Teaching students about digital citizenship and online hygiene

Good Digital Citizenship also amounts to a form of “online hygiene”. Teaching students these kinds of “clean” online practices that will keep them and their data safer. Here are a few examples:

Passwords are a priority. Introduce students to password briefcases and online locks to keep passwords protected, up-to-date and varied. Suggest them to avoid simple passwords like “password” or “12345”, and come up with their own algorithms to create easy to remember yet unique and strong passwords for each website they use regularly.

Sensitive information is easy to divulge. We would never walk into a restaurant and announce to the entire room that we are going on holiday, where we are going and for how long, right? But routinely we share these types of details online, with a whole host of people we don’t really know. There can be many negative consequences to these types of indiscretions. Young people fall more readily into this trap, and designing an exercise where they perhaps review their feeds from the last sic months, and identify when they have taken this type of risk would be a helpful exercise.

Posts live forever. Last year CareerBuilder.com conducted a survey that asked 2,303 hiring managers how they include social media in their hiring process. One thing the survey discovered is that 37% of employers use social networks to screen potential job candidates. Add to that the fact that social media post never die, as a teacher you may want to highlight to your older students how their online behavior could affect future career prospects.

Ignore trolls (Don’t feed them). A really, really important part of a digital citizenship course is to help students to develop a thicker skin around cyber trolls, and cyber-bullying. This is a part, perhaps, of a larger conversation about dealing with bullies in general. ConnectSafely is a Silicon Valley nonprofit with great resources for better preparing students for what can sometimes be a rude and aggressive online world.


Read more: How to address cyberbullying and online safety in schools


Cyber Self-Harm. Self-harm is a compulsive behavior that for various reasons tends to be exhibited by teenage girls. In the US, the rate of girls aged 10 to 14 arriving in American emergency rooms with self-inflicted injuries has increased by 19% per year since 2009. A new manifestation of the behaviour is cyber self-harm.

Cyber self-harm hit the headlines in 2013, when a 14-year-old girl committed suicide after a series of cyber-bullying incidents, which turned out to have been authored by herself. Since then only one mental health study has been published into this maladaptive behavior, and the results are somewhat predictable: more study required. However, it seems that the respondents fell into two groups – those that suffer depression and self loathing (not the majority in this study) and those that felt framing themselves as victims would in some sense generate more attention, or indeed be funny.

Whatever the reasons turn out to be for cyber self-harm, its emergence points to an increasingly complex psycho-cyber (my phrase) terrain where young people morph and adjust their identities depending on the effect they care to create. I’m certain most teachers and counselors would agree this is not ideal. As such approaches to engendering digital citizenship need to be cognizant of how deeply as well as emotionally enmeshed some teens are in the cyber-world, and its perceived reality.

Digital citizenship courses could begin to address cyber self-care, and examine how forms of cyber behavior are not only unproductive and dangerous, but may in fact either be the cause of, or consequence of, more deep seated emotional issues. Again, more study is required.

In the end

Since more and more aspects of our daily lives are happening in the digital world, students of all ages need to be aware of all the new rules of online cohabitation, whether this is for school activities or in their leisure time. Being a good digital citizenship means being a good citizen.

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