Making It Cool to Be a ‘Good Digital Citizen’

If you are a parent today, you are among the first generation of adults tasked with raising good digital citizens. And while learning to be a  “good digital citizen” is a hot topic in education circles have you noticed that it’s quickly demoted to “goofy” when you attempt to talk about it at the dinner table with your kids?

Still, the task remains: How do we get our kids even caring about becoming good digital citizens? While they jump online to text, flirt, connect,share cool tech tools, and climb the “like” ladder, parents long for them to see the bigger picture and learn to correctly discern every digital fork in the road.

Our answer to this conundrum is to accomplish it one conversation at a time. Bridging the gap isn’t an annual family meeting—it’s a conversation that is on-going until your children leave the nest.

It’s a challenge to be sure but if you pace yourself and use their terms, soon you may find yourself able to penetrate the force field that stands between your desires and their actions.

5 tips to get you going:

  1. Learn the meaning of Digital Citizenship. Before forging forward to tackle this topic, learn the basics as they apply to the online world. According to, there are 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship that range from security, to etiquette, to just good common sense.
  2. Swap out the term digital citizen (forever) with leader. Begin inserting leadership qualities—such as courage, consistency, knowledge, compassion, and respect—into conversations. Kids understand the ‘why’ better than the ‘what’ sometimes. Pose some hypothetical situations that the two of you can work through together to sharpen her online leadership skills. When scrupulous situations citizenshiparise online, ask her what she thinks a leader would do.
  3. Catch them being awesome! As you observe your child online, catch her being a digital leader and praise her for it (in person, not online). When she makes smart security decisions, is an encourager to others, reports a bully, or demonstrates she is using apps and networks wisely, make sure you recognize her for it. To complete this step you must get intentional about monitoring your child if you are not already.
  4. Point her toward role models. Many kids and teens online are doing things right. They are choosing big and small ways to make a difference. When you read about these kids or notice them in your own social circle, point them out to your family. Be sure not to hold them up as “comparisons” to your child but note specifics about that person such as, “I admire the way her humor doesn’t hurt others,” or “that link she shared really inspired me.”
  5. Don’t over think it. Be your best self online and teach your kids to do the same. Being a good digital citizen is the same as being a good citizen in the offline world, which means each one of us contributes to the whole when we learn to: Protect ourselves, respect others, obey the law, and be part of the solution, not the problem. To teach this to our kids, parents have to stick to the digital leader guidelines as well. For some parents, that means you can no longer download music or content illegally, have angry outbursts on Facebook, or get casual with your online privacy.

Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @SafeEyes. (Disclosures)

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