Educating Good Digital Citizens

The US Capital buidling overlaid with the words: Digital Citizenship.

SOURCE: Democracy Chronicles

Everyone knows that we need to be good citizens. More recently it has begun to be recognized that we need to be a good citizen in the digital realm. This is quite a change from the  peer-2-peer music sharing time that I remember. I think we can all agree, including children and adults, that walking into Best Buy and stealing a CD is wrong. The problem seems to be that some young people view digital media very differently. To some people, downloading music and movies is not wrong. How do we go about changing that view? How do we teach children and young adults that being a good citizen also means being a good digital citizen.

Sign reading "Please Dont Steal My Stuff"

SOURCE: Dave O, “don’t steal”

In my view the difficulty in making connections between the “real-world” and the “digital-world” is one of physicality. Someone clearly wrote and recorded the songs on a CD and a company produced and published the CD. When young people see a song download, it is just data to them. It’s like it is less real to them. Individiuals don’t see the people behind that item who are responsible for it. This disconnect leads to the belief that it is just data and that data can easily be downloaded. Let’s face it, stealing physical things is likely much harder.

Additionally, young people see some artists releasing music free online. This is obviously fine, but it reinforces the belief that music (or data in general) is free when it is online. We need to teach the idea that online data is never free unless it has been stated as being free. We need to teach the idea that all data belongs to someone and they own it.

Why is all this important? Check out this video:

SOURCE: Xin Zhang

In order to achieve better digital citizenship, most educators focus on students.

SOURCE: Common Sense Education

There is a problem in this student focus… the parents. Too many people my age (the parents age) grew up with Napster and p2p file sharing. Too many of them don’t necessarily view data as belonging to people. We can’t just focus on educating children, we need to teach the parents as well. Show them that data is not just 1’s and 0’s. They need to see the people behind the data. Show the starving artist. Americans look up to artists and celebrities and by showing that these are the people being hurt would go a long way.

I am in no way a master of how to do this. I was a musician when I was young and never got into the p2p music sharing. As such, I have always viewed data as property. My wife and I have passed on that view to our son. Luckily for us as educators, Common Sense Education has posted some real-world examples of how to get parents educated in digital citizenship.


Overall, teachers need to teach the students but they need to educate the parents as well. Parents are huge role-models for students and by getting them involved in the process will make our students much better digital citizens. It’s also important the educators practice what they preach and make sure that they are not improperly using materials themselves.

2 thoughts on “Educating Good Digital Citizens

  1. Thank you for emphasizing the need to educate the parents as well. I hadn’t really given it much thought when going through all things about Digital Citizenship. How can we expect our kids to practice being a good digital citizen when their parents might not know how? I like how you said we as teachers also need to be role models when it comes to being a good digital citizen. Like all things in out classrooms, we need to involve parents.

  2. I too, agree that many times it is hard for people to make the connection between the digital world and the “real world”. Like you pointed out, sometimes the digital world may seem less real for students and adults, because they view it as “data” and are behind a device. I also love the fact that you brought up educating the parents. Parents are a huge part of children’s lives and we need their support in helping the students become good digital citizens as well. Just like with other aspects of education, the students should practice things they learn not only in school, but outside of school as well. Without the support of parents that could be more difficult, and unfortunately many parents are not well educated on this themselves and it is not necessarily their fault. Anytime parents are involved in what is going on in the classroom is a great thing! I thought you included some great videos as well that helped emphasize your points. Lastly, I also think that teachers should “practice what they preach” and be good a digital citizen role model for the students as well. How can a child take you seriously and think what you are teaching them is important if they themselves do not see that you view it that way?

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