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Digital citizenship: teens being responsible online

9-18 years

If your child has a smartphone or social media account, uses an online educational platform or creates digital content, she’s a digital citizen. Responsible digital citizenship can help your child have a safer and more satisfying experience online.

What is responsible digital citizenship?

Being a responsible digital citizen means having the online social skills to take part in online community life in an ethical and respectful way.

Responsible digital citizenship also 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 that of others
  • recognising your rights and responsibilities when using digital technologies
  • thinking about the impact of what you do online on yourself, on other people you know, and on the wider online community.
Responsible digital citizenship is different from the technical skills you need to use the internet, which is a part of media literacy. It’s also different from knowing how to avoid and stop cyberbullying.

What children and teenagers get out of being digital citizens

When they’re online, children and teenagers are mostly social and collaborative.

For example, websites like Moshi Monsters and Club Penguin let children socialise with friends online, but the interaction is monitored and moderated. This is why they’re popular and appropriate for children under 12 years.

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Tumblr help teenagers keep up with local and long-distance friendships, share experiences and support peers. The culture of sharing helps teenagers feel connected to a larger global community.

Digital citizenship also lets teenagers express themselves by sharing and posting comments, photos and videos. They can explore who they are and take action on issues they care about by starting or signing online petitions, joining or creating online communities and interest groups, or just by creating content like animations or blogs.

Sometimes the anonymity of the internet can be a bonus – for example, if teenagers want to explore aspects of their identity, or want help with issues they’re worried or embarrassed about.

Finally, the internet gives teenagers good access to news and health information, and many turn to the internet first to find out about 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.

How to be a safe and responsible digital citizen

Here are some ways to encourage your child to be safe and responsible online, while still having fun.

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 those he meets face to face. Part of this is not creating or forwarding nasty or humiliating emails, photos or text messages about someone else.

You can also encourage your child to tell you or another trusted adult if she sees someone being bullied or attacked online. Young people often try to sort things out for themselves, but it’s good to get your child into the habit of telling you if she’s worried about something that’s happening 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 on his profile pages, he should block or unfriend people who don’t treat him with respect online. This sends the message that it’s not OK to mistreat or bully someone online.

Protect your reputation
Make sure your child understands the consequences of posting photos and video, and uploading other 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. For example, you might say, ‘Some photos and videos 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 she shows you posts, images and other content before she uploads them.

Protect your privacy
There are several ways your child can protect his 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. You can usually do this by going into Settings or checking the instructions for the device or app. Turn off the location services your child doesn’t need.

Watch your tone
It’s often hard to ‘read’ emotion in emails, and jokes can easily be misinterpreted. You can encourage your child to ‘stop, think, review’ before she sends an electronic message or posts an online comment. Using emoticons or emojis like smiley faces can help.

Be sceptical
There are lots of 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 he shares with people he doesn’t know.

If something seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. Hoax-Slayer is a good site that uncovers online scams and hoaxes. If your child isn’t sure about a site’s credibility, she can ask herself, ‘Whose interest is this in?’. The answer can help her work out what sites and offers are dodgy. 

Your child should also be careful about clicking pop-ups on websites. Some pop-ups that seem safe can lead to porn sites or ask for 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 creating digital content, using social media responsibly, cyberbullying, sexting and avoiding online pornography.

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Last updated or reviewed
09-12-2016

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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