Digital Citizenship

Adults automatically understand the term ’good citizenship’.  Do our children? They will travel the world many times as ‘digital citizens’ before they even leave your suburb. They will do so on their phones, in the dead of the night, while you are out and when you are getting dinner. You cannot always be by their side instructing them what do, and what not to do. So it falls to us as parents and educators to ensure that they conduct themselves in accordance with the rights, duties, and privileges of being online-citizens of the globe.

When children are younger, perhaps between 5 and 14, parents need to set clear boundaries for internet use and clear consequences for transgressing those boundaries. This will include having a family agreement regarding the use of the computer, placing the family computer in the living area, managing access to the internet and ensuring a high level of parent monitoring of social networking or gaming sites. During this period we should be sitting with our children and talking about rights and responsibilities, appropriate behaviour; digital reputation, online courtesy and respect.

This is precious time and the earlier we have these conversations with our children the more we embed in them a framework for appropriate behaviour and use of the internet.

As our children become young adults, hitting 13 to 17,  we need to step back a little at a time and allow them some independence to explore and to practice the elements of digital citizenship we have taught them. You may for instance give them more freedom to decide when they will use their internet play time allowance, rather than stipulating it. You may allow them to join social networking sites aimed at teenagers, you may allow them to work in their bedroom.

At 18 you hope that they will be upstanding digital citizens who make you proud and are capable of monitoring their own time, digital reputation, online relationships and use of the internet. Strike a balance – the right control at the appropriate age, slowly enabling them to build their understanding and skills to make thoughtful, positive choices online.

According to, there are nine elements of Digital Citizenship:

Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship

Digital citizenship can be defined as the norms of appropriate, responsible behaviour with regard to technology use.

1.   Digital Access:   full electronic participation in society.
Technology users need to be aware that not everyone has the same opportunities when it comes to technology.  Working toward equal digital rights and supporting electronic access is the starting point of Digital Citizenship. Digital exclusion makes it difficult to grow as a society increasingly using these tools. Helping to provide and expand access to technology should be goal of all digital citizens.  Users need to keep in mind that there are some that may have limited access, so other resources may need to be provided.  To become productive citizens, we need to be committed to make sure that no one is denied digital access.

2.   Digital Commerce:   electronic buying and selling of goods.
Technology users need to understand that a large share of market economy is being done electronically. Legitimate and legal exchanges are occurring, but the buyer or seller needs to be aware of the issues associated with it. The mainstream availability of Internet purchases of toys, clothing, cars, food, etc. has become commonplace to many users. At the same time, an equal amount of goods and services which are in conflict with the laws or morals of some countries are surfacing (which might include activities such as illegal downloading, pornography, and gambling). Users need to learn about how to be effective consumers in a new digital economy.

3.   Digital Communication:   electronic exchange of information.
One of the significant changes within the digital revolution is a person’s ability to communicate with other people. In the 19th century, forms of communication were limited. In the 21st century, communication options have exploded to offer a wide variety of choices (e.g., e-mail, cellular phones, instant messaging).  The expanding digital communication options have changed everything because people are able to keep in constant communication with anyone else. Now everyone has the opportunity to communicate and collaborate with anyone from anywhere and anytime. Unfortunately, many users have not been taught how to make appropriate decisions when faced with so many different digital communication options.

4.   Digital Literacy:   process of teaching and learning about technology and the use of technology. 
While schools have made great progress in the area of technology infusion, much remains to be done. A renewed focus must be made on what technologies must be taught as well as how it should be used. New technologies are finding their way into the work place that are not being used in schools (e.g., Videoconferencing, online sharing spaces such as wikis). In addition, workers in many different occupations need immediate information (just-in-time information). This process requires sophisticated searching and processing skills (i.e., information literacy). Learners must be taught how to learn in a digital society. In other words, learners must be taught to learn anything, anytime, anywhere.  Business, military, and medicine are excellent examples of how technology is being used differently in the 21st century. As new technologies emerge, learners need to learn how to use that technology quickly and appropriately. Digital Citizenship involves educating people in a new way— these individuals need a high degree of information literacy skills.

5. Digital Etiquette:   electronic standards of conduct or procedure.
Technology users often see this area as one of the most pressing problems when dealing with Digital Citizenship. We recognize inappropriate behaviour when we see it, but before people use technology they do not learn digital etiquette (i.e., appropriate conduct).   Many people feel uncomfortable talking to others about their digital etiquette.  Often rules and regulations are created or the technology is simply banned to stop inappropriate use. It is not enough to create rules and policy, we must teach everyone to become responsible digital citizens in this new society.

6.   Digital Law:   electronic responsibility for actions and deeds 
Digital law deals with the ethics of technology within a society. Unethical use manifests itself in form of theft and/or crime. Ethical use manifests itself in the form of abiding by the laws of society. Users need to understand that stealing or causing damage to other people’s work, identity, or property online is a crime. There are certain rules of society that users need to be aware in a ethical society. These laws apply to anyone who works or plays online. Hacking into others information, downloading illegal music, plagiarizing, creating destructive worms, viruses or creating Trojan Horses, sending spam, or stealing anyone’s identify or property is unethical.

7.   Digital Rights & Responsibilities:   those freedoms extended to everyone in a digital world.
Just as in the American Constitution where there is a Bill of Rights, there is a basic set of rights extended to every digital citizen. Digital citizens have the right to privacy, free speech, etc. Basic digital rights must be addressed, discussed, and understood in the digital world.  With these rights also come responsibilities as well.  Users must help define how the technology is to be used in an appropriate manner.  In a digital society these two areas must work together for everyone to be productive.

8.   Digital Health & Wellness:   physical and psychological well-being in a digital technology world.
Eye safety, repetitive stress syndrome, and sound ergonomic practices are issues that need to be addressed in a new technological world.  Beyond the physical issues are those of the psychological issues that are becoming more prevalent such as Internet addiction.  Users need to be taught that there inherent dangers of technology. Digital Citizenship includes a culture where technology users are taught how to protect themselves through education and training.

9.   Digital Security (self-protection):   electronic precautions to guarantee safety. 
In any society, there are individuals who steal, deface, or disrupt other people. The same is true for the digital community. It is not enough to trust other members in the community for our own safety. In our own homes, we put locks on our doors and fire alarms in our houses to provide some level of protection. The same must be true for the digital security. We need to have virus protection, backups of data, and surge control of our equipment. As responsible citizens, we must protect our information from outside forces that might cause disruption or harm.

Respect, Educate and Protect (REPs)

The concept of REPs is a way to explain as well as teach the themes of digital citizenship.  Each area encompasses three topics which should be taught beginning at the kindergarten level.  When teaching these ideas the top theme from each group would be taught as one REP.  For example the first REP would be: Etiquette, Communication and Rights/Responsibilities.  This would continue through REPs two and three.  By doing this all students will have covered the topics and everyone would understand the basic ideas of digital citizenship.