The creative use of technology is a big part of our educational approach at GEMS World Academy-Chicago. Starting in our youngest grades, teachers encourage students to view technology as an additional pathway to discovery, a tool that can be used to expand and enhance their worlds. Teachers also instill the idea that there are responsibilities attached to using technology, that students must be good "digital citizens."

Digital citizenship is an issue that transcends the classroom, of course. It's something that parents and other caregivers should discuss in the home, too. But what is a good digital citizen, and why should your child become one?

Good digital citizens are people who use technology safely, appropriately and responsibly. Just as we teach our children to be good citizens of our community, we must also teach them how to behave in the digital realm.

When children are very young, it's easier for parents to control their exposure to digital media, but the task becomes more difficult when children reach the middle-school years. Older children often have nearly unfettered access to technology. They have their own phones, they interact on social media, and they search for information on topics that interest them. This relative lack of control can be frightening for some parents, but in fact, parents still have a powerful influence on how young people use technology. Here are some ways parents can help their children become responsible digital citizens.

Pass on what you've learned

By the time your kids are 10 or 11, you've already encountered many online landmines, so you know how to keep family computers and other devices free of viruses and malware by using the protection features of websites and software. Now's the time to teach these techniques to your children so they can protect their own devices. As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. Help them choose and set the most appropriate privacy levels on every device they use.

Support good choices

Let your children make their own decisions about what they do online, but with your guidance. Teach them that they should treat their online contacts with consideration and respect, just as they would anyone. Make sure they understand the public nature of the Internet — that what they post can never be taken back and could harm their reputation in the future. Keep the dialogue open so they ask for your help if they run into online bullying or unwanted contact. Encourage them to help their peers make good choices.

Increase their digital savvy

One of the biggest problems novices encounter when using the Internet is that they run into the sophisticated tricks of hackers and scammers. Show your children what these tricks look like — the click bait, scams and phishing techniques — so they learn to identify what is safe and credible, and what is suspicious.

Help them expand their horizons

While your children may just want to use the Internet to consume content, this is the age to start encouraging them to become contributing members of the digital community. Support their positive engagement in online communities and encourage them to create effective, thoughtful content. Be clear about the ethical use of content created by others.

digcitizenblog.jpgDon't stop parenting!

Just because the people your children interact with online are not physically present in your home doesn't mean you don't need to know who they are. Show interest in your children's social media activities. Ask them to share the funny videos with you. Integrate this part of your child's life into yours, just as you would with after-school activities or hobbies. Keep up-to-date on the online services your kids use. New platforms start up all the time, and you should check them out yourself to see if they're appropriate for your children.

Without instruction, children can easily get lost in an online world of inappropriate, even dangerous, interaction. As a parent, your guidance is crucial so your children know how to approach our increasingly digital world safely and sensibly. The Internet is a wonderful place, full of entertainment and information, and our kids must learn to navigate it well.

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