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 theĀ  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.