October is National Bullying Prevention Month and schools across the nation are turning their attention to raising awareness about bullying. For most schools, students have been in class for a month or more and have settled into academic and social routines. It’s a good time to bring the discussion about bullying to the forefront.
Entwined with this discussion, however, is the larger topic of personal conduct online. Bullying goes far beyond the playground in the digital age. Many schools broaden the scope of their anti-bullying efforts by teaching digital citizenship to their students. For digital natives, this kind of instruction can begin in the elementary grades and build from there, over the course of students’ educational careers.
What is a digital native?
You may have heard the term “Digital Native” to describe students today – but what does it mean? Simply put, a digital native is an individual who has grown up in the age of digital technology and is therefore familiar with information presented in a digital format. Computers, tablets, and smartphones are an integral part of their existence, and they are comfortable with social media, online transactions, and virtual communication.
Digital natives aren’t just students, however. Many of today’s educators can count themselves as part of this tech-forward cohort, having been exposed to technology from a young age. As the field of education continues to become more technologically engaged, it’s important for teachers and students to explore the responsibilities of digital citizenship.
Why is digital citizenship important?
As our personal and professional lives become more intertwined with technology, it’s important to understand how to operate in a virtual world. It’s especially important for students to develop digital citizenship skills starting at a young age. Just as you intentionally teach social skills in the classroom, you must also teach students proper conduct online.
The statistics around online bullying are shocking and sad. More than half of teens have been bullied or harassed online, most often via social media. During Covid, there was a 70% increase in online bullying among teens. Young people who experience cyberbullying have a higher risk of self-harm, up to and including suicide.
But digital citizenship involves more than mitigating cyberbullying. It’s also important to teach students to be good digital citizens by helping them understand how to use the internet responsibly and effectively.
The Basics of Digital Citizenship
Teaching digital citizenship means addressing the many factors of online life. Online communication has the potential to be disruptive, malicious, and dangerous without positive, purposeful rules and limitations. Teaching students digital responsibility includes instruction in:
The foundation for character education is the development of empathy. Empathy is most commonly defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Depending on grade level, there are numerous ways to implicitly teach empathy – including modeling, using literature, and journaling. A class project such as Random Acts of Kindness can help to make these experiences more personal.
Using devices to communicate respectfully is a learned skill. The anonymous nature of text messages and social media can produce a sense of detachment. It’s easy to forget there are real people on the receiving end. Just as you teach respectful face-to-face interactions, extend the lesson to include being polite, courteous, and kind online. Responsible online communication also includes knowing when and how to appropriately respond to mean, rude, or harmful language. Learning to stand up for others is especially important when it comes to schoolwide bully prevention.
Critical thinking skills are crucial for success, both in school and in life. Digital literacy adds another layer of challenge in developing these skills. How do you find reliable information online? Search engines can return thousands of results in a matter of seconds, and not all of it is accurate or up-to-date. Students need to understand how to evaluate online content for truth and accuracy. They also need to understand concepts such as plagiarism, copyright, and the proper way to utilize resources for a variety of purposes. Just because they’re already experts at using digital devices doesn’t mean they have the ability to discern fact from opinion and truth from disinformation.
It’s never too early to learn about protecting private information, both online and in real life. Many students are open books – they freely share whatever they know or feel with anyone. And while you want to encourage openness and friendliness in terms of building personal connections, some information is personal and private. There are numerous ways for personal information to be exposed online. Prepare students with solid strategies for safe and appropriate online interactions, suitable for their specific grade level.
Device and Data Security
Protecting private information online is only part of the equation. The other part concerns security, both for devices and data. A compromised, lost, or stolen device can create a lot of problems for students, families, and schools. Teach students how to handle their devices responsibly. This can include using passwords or passcodes to gain access to a device, physical device security, and avoiding hacking techniques such as clickbait or phishing.
For as much time and effort as you will spend online, it’s important to also teach students about balancing their time offline. Apps and games on digital devices are often engineered to be habit-forming. Breaking the cycle of endlessly scrolling online or working to achieve a new level in a game can help improve student mental health over the long term. (PS – this goes for teachers, too!)
Digital Citizenship as Part of PBIS
As technology becomes an ever-larger part of education, it makes sense to purposefully teach digital citizenship as part of character education. Soft skills such as self-management, social awareness, and responsible decision-making are just as important online as they are face-to-face.
Including digital expectations as part of your schoolwide behavior matrix can help students to develop these skills more easily. Just as you expect positive behavior in the classroom, you also expect the same level of positive behavior online.
PBIS Rewards can help your school streamline its PBIS initiative by enabling you to create and use a digital token economy. With PBIS Rewards, you can easily recognize students, track points, and analyze the data generated through your initiative. And as a bonus, you can also demonstrate responsible technology use as you use the app! We’d love to show you more – just contact us or request a demo!