Hudson Voices: Raising productive digital citizens

by Phil Herman Published:

As a child growing up in the '80s, my parents focused on helping me become a productive citizen in life beyond childhood. My parents, and for that matter my friends' parents, taught us to respect adults, respect one another, resolve disputes and stand up to the school bully, say please and thank you, shake hands, and look adults in the eye when speaking. They attended our events, knew where we were going, when we would be home, and who was going to be there.

Our parents overheard us talking on the phone with our friends, and if they didn't, our siblings did and were quick to report the content of our conversations.

Our parents were engaged in our lives, and just like many parents today, through that engagement, taught us about their values to help guide our way toward adulthood.

While parents today share many of the same desires as my parents' generation, my parents didn't have to worry about digital citizenry.

The Internet, smart phones, iPods and iPads did not exist, and therefore our parents would never have had to even think about the privileges and responsibilities that come with owning such a device, let alone what it means to become a good digital citizen.

In my experiences as a parent of two children and as an educator of thousands, I realize that our generation of parents has an opportunity and a responsibility to help our youth grow into, not only responsible citizens, but also to grow to be responsible digital citizens. As recently as five years ago, Internet safety for youth was focused on limiting access to inappropriate web sites, protecting students from online predators, and protecting their identities.

While these are still important components of understanding what it means to be a digital citizen, digital citizenry today includes understanding cyber bullying, password protection, proper netiquette, digital rights and responsibilities, digital commerce, digital reputations and footprints, and responsible use of social media.

While this may seem complicated and overwhelming, the same practices used by our parents to help us become productive citizens can also be used by today's parents to help our children become productive digital citizens:

Know where your children are going and who is with them.

Today's parents do a great job of knowing where their children are physically located and who is with them. However, our children will be in the living room with us or riding in the car and we often do not have any idea with whom they are communicating or what they are communicating about. As children get older, they will seek more independence, but just as our parents wanted to know where the party was or who was going to be at the sleepover, we should be talking with our children about who they are interacting with online. Discourage children of any age from engaging in social media sites where conversations happen anonymously.

Stay involved in our kids' activities.

Whether we, as parents, have a kindergartner exploring new apps on the family iPad, a fifth-grader with their first Instagram account, or a high school student answering questions on Ask.fm, it is essential that we engage in conversations with our children about the technologies they are using and why they are using them. The earlier these conversations can begin in a child's life, the more acceptable it will seem later on.

Consider creating accounts on the social media sites your children are using and require the ability to "friend" or "follow" them as a prerequisite to using the site.

Model what it means to be

a good citizen.

Whether we like to admit it or not, most of us have become much like our parents and our children will become much like us. However, if we never model how to be productive digital citizens, in today's world, we are leaving our children to figure that out for themselves.

As parents, we can show our children how we determine whether or not a shopping site seems reputable, how we interact with clients or customers in a professional manner online, how we make decisions about what we post on Facebook, and the importance of disengaging from interactions when others we don't really know seem to innocently ask for information.

I suspect that raising children to be productive citizens has never been easy, and as the pace of information sharing and technology developments, it can seem more complicated than ever. However, time-tested principles that our parents used with us can serve as a guide in the digital age as we help our children develop into, not only productive citizens, but also productive digital citizens.

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