Teaching skills of citizenship has been a core component of school curriculum since the beginning of organized schooling. We teach even the youngest children to be honest, kind, hard-working, and on. Important skills in a world that feels like it is not always on solid ground ethically. So, we spend years helping kids hone their citizenship skills through targeted programs in hopes that they can better navigate the tricky grey world we live in.
In our 21st Century world, citizenship skills are as important as ever. Traditional skills alone though, focused on human interaction and classical issues, may not be enough. As technology and the world advances, so do the issues students face. Where students used to have to know how to stand up to a bully in a schoolyard, now they run the risk of that bully following them home through their computer. Where stealing used to be clear, as you would have to walk into a store and take something, like a CD, now music is readily available (legally and illegally) for download.
Just as pressing as moral behaviors in a 21st century world, are other important skills.
Students may know not to talk to strangers in the park, but do they know not to talk to strangers in their own inboxes?
Whereas paper pictures used to be easy to destroy, the myriad of images posted online now will likely be accessible forever.
Where limited fact-checked newspapers used to be the national standard for receiving information, unlimited news sites, blogs, twitter feeds, videos, and more, inundate students with countless amount of information from all different sides with varying levels of credibility. How do they know what to believe?
This is where digital citizenship comes in.
“Many recent developments justify how social and political participation through new media and information and communication technology is an urgent matter for many developed countries. The nurturing of digital citizenship, the promotion of social and political participation with better information dissemination and deliberation among citizens are vital elements for a healthy democratic system” (Kaigo, 2017).
Digital Citizenship is not a replacement for traditional citizenship, but instead, it is an extension that recognizes that technology is an integrated part of the lives of students.
“With nearly one in 10 children receiving a mobile device, such as a smart phone, by age five, today’s youth are the new digital natives. Ensuring they understand the implications, consequences, and best practices for engaging with technology and social media is critical to safeguarding their well-being and to their developing workplace skills (Dotterer, Hedges, & Parker, 2016, p. 58).
Educators and parents must work together to include pivotal Digital Citizenship skills into curriculum right alongside traditional citizenship.
Overview of digital citizenship areas (Common Sense Media, 2017):
While this can and must be used on a small scale, for ultimate effect, it cannot be done at just a home or classroom wide level though. “A true character education program is built of community-defined values. This requires town councils and school boards to talk openly and honestly about technology…in terms of cyber behavior, digital ethics, and other confounding issues” (Ohler, 2012, p. 15). It takes a village to raise healthy and successful children, and in this day and age, that village must not only be on board with traditional citizenship, but digital citizenship as well.
One would be remiss to mention the important of teaching digital citizenship without pointing teachers to the fantastic resource that is Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship curriculum. With a full K-12 scope of spiraling ideas, are set up in manageable segments, with modern and engaging tech based lessons that really drive the point of digital citizenship home. Seriously. It’s all ready to go for a classroom or school wide level. Find it here.
Common Sense Education. (2017). Scope & Sequence. Accessed 6 April 2017. https://
Dotter, G., Heges, A., & Parker, H. (2016). Fostering Digital Citizenship in the Classroom.
Education Digest, 82(3), 58-63.
Kaigo, Muneo. (March 2017). The Necessity of Digital Citizenship and Participation. Information 2017.
Ohler, J. (2012). Digital Citizenship Means Character Education for the Digital Age. Education Digest, 77(8), 14-17.