What is digital citizenship?
Digital citizenship is when a person uses the internet in a legal, safe, ethical and responsible way.
Digital citizenship means:
- behaving lawfully – for example, it’s a crime to hack, steal, illegally download or cause damage to other people’s work, identity or property online
- protecting your privacy and managing your reputation
- thinking about how your online activities affect yourself, other people you know, and the wider online community.
Responsible digital citizenship is different from the skills you need to make informed decisions about the content you use and trust. These skills are part of media or digital literacy.
What children and teenagers get out of being digital citizens
When they’re online, children and teenagers are mostly social, engaging with content and people.
For example, games like Minecraft allow children to work with others to build new worlds. And platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Messenger, Twitch and Snapchat help teenagers maintain friendships, share experiences and support peers. This culture of communicating and sharing helps children and teenagers feel connected to a larger global community.
As digital citizens, teenagers express themselves by sharing and posting comments, images and videos. They can explore who they are and take action on issues they care about. They might do this by engaging in social causes like climate change, joining or creating online communities, or creating content like videos or memes.
Sometimes the anonymity of the internet can be a bonus – for example, if teenagers want to explore aspects of their identity or get help with issues they’re worried or embarrassed about.
Finally, the internet gives teenagers access to news and information, and many turn to the internet first to understand themselves and the world.
Children and teenagers connect socially both online and offline, but they might do things online that challenge your ideas about what’s normal or OK. This is often about discovery and self-expression, which are important for your child’s development.
Key messages for safe and responsible digital citizenship
These key messages can encourage your child to be safe and responsible online, while still having fun:
- Be respectful – and expect respect.
- Protect your reputation.
- Protect your privacy.
- Think critically.
Be respectful – and expect respect
Respect for yourself and other people is important in all relationships, and it’s no different when you’re online.
You can encourage your child to treat online friends with as much respect as face-to-face friends. Part of this is not creating or forwarding nasty or humiliating emails, images or text messages about someone else. It’s also refusing to take part in mean or negative online discussions about other people.
You can encourage your child to tell you or another trusted adult if they see someone being bullied or attacked online. Young people often try to sort things out for themselves, but it’s good to encourage your child to talk with you if they’re worried about something online. It might help your child to know that things are easier to sort out when other people help.
If your child gets any nasty or bullying comments, they should block or unfriend people who don’t treat them with respect.
It’s often hard to ‘read’ emotion in posts and emails, and jokes can easily be misinterpreted. You can encourage your child to ‘stop, think, review’ before they send a message or post an online comment. Using emojis or hashtags can help, but these might have more than one meaning.
Protect your reputation
Make sure your child understands the consequences of posting photos and videos and uploading personal content,. Once this content is online, it’s very hard to get rid of and can become part of your child’s permanent online reputation. Also, photos and other content can be altered or shared without your child’s permission.
You can encourage your child to think about the online content or behaviour their future self might be comfortable with. For example, you could say, ‘Some videos or posts might seem OK to you now, but you might feel differently about them in the future and not want people to see them’.
Depending on your child’s age, you could agree that they show you posts, images and other content before they upload them.
Protect your privacy
There are several ways your child can protect their privacy:
- Share only as much personal information as necessary. For example, it’s not compulsory to enter your year of birth, mobile number, email address or city on all online forms.
- Keep privacy settings up to date on social media sites, so your child’s profile isn’t publicly available.
- Keep passwords private.
- Check the location settings and services on smartphones, tablets and apps. Turn off the location services your child doesn’t need.
- Read the terms and conditions of apps to understand what data the apps collect about your child and how the apps distribute that data.
- Don’t use public wi-fi for posting on social media or messaging, because the connection is public and can be hacked.
There are many dodgy people, places and offers online.
Not everyone online is who they say they are. It’s important for your child to be careful about what they share with people they don’t know.
If something seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. You and your child can find out how to recognise, avoid and report scams on Scamwatch, a website run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). You can also use the ABC’s Fact Check to check the accuracy of claims by politicians, public figures, advocacy groups and institutions.
If your child isn’t sure about a site’s credibility, they can ask themselves some critical questions. For example, ‘Whose interest does this site serve?’ or ‘How accurate and reliable is what I’m reading?’ The answers can help your child work out which sites and offers are dodgy and which have accurate news and content.
Your child should also be careful about clicking pop-ups on websites. Some pop-ups that seem safe can lead to porn sites or are scams that collect personal or financial information.
Having regular, relaxed and respectful conversations with your child is the best way to help your child make good decisions about online behaviour. You could talk about using social media responsibly, cyberbullying, sexting and avoiding online pornography.