Teaching children safe digital citizenship

Parents worry about their children’s online activities, but the latest approach encourages parents and students to be empowered.

Changes in digital technology are so rapid that instead of focusing on cyber-safety parents need to focus on teaching their children cyber-citizenship.

Greg Swanson, the CEO’s Senior Project Officer eLearning said conversations about digital citizenship really need to be about rights and responsibilities situated within the CEO Anti-Bullying Policy (available on the CEO website).

Mr Swanson, father of a 15 year old girl who uses social media, said it’s become increasingly important for children to be able to speak to a significant adult if they’re feeling unsafe or unsure online.

But first and foremost, Mr Swanson said digital technology should be seen as a positive form of communication and accessing the eSmart website, sponsored by the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, is a good tool to help schools reduce cyber-bullying. It’s been trialled in several Sydney schools.

The Catholic Network Australia Digital Citizenship web portal also offers links useful for schools and parents.

CEO Sydney school students and their parent or caregiver have to sign a Student Acceptable Use Agreement Form that covers all digital devices they use at school, whether the school’s or their own. Signing it means they agree their communication is related to learning and does not abuse, threaten or defame.

“Any student who uses technology in our schools signs that, and schools talk about that… depending on the year level,” said Mr Swanson.

The National Safe Schools Framework is also a useful point of reference for parents with a checklist of how to create and maintain a positive online learning school community. It can be accessed here: http://www.safeschoolshub.edu.au/documents/nationalsafeschoolsframework.pdf

Here are Mr Swanson’s key tips for good cyber-citizenship:

  1. Create time limits on usage
  2. Educate about anti-social behaviour
  3. Prevent obsessiveness about social media. Don’t allow mobile phones at the dinner table, for example, or turn off the wifi at home after a certain hour.
  4. Know what apps children are using and have conversations about them
  5. Know age restrictions on apps and websites (FaceBook for example is for age 13+)
  6. Teach about the inherent dangers of “friending” or “belonging” online
  7. Make sure your child has a significant adult to talk to about digital technology if they are feeling unsafe or unsure.

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