Fear is not enough, teach kids about digital citizenship

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It’s many parents’ worst fear: that a stranger will lure their child into a dangerous or inappropriate situation over the Internet.

Far fewer parents voice fears that their kid’s own online behaviour could cost them a job or other opportunity later on in life.

Yet that’s exactly what happened to Kyle Kashuv. Harvard University recently rescinded its admission offer to the Parkland high school shooting survivor due to racist comments he made online two years earlier. Kashuv’s Harvard dreams were dashed by his own digital footprint.

Dr. Eli Shapiro, a clinical social worker with a doctorate in education, cites similar incidents when he argues it’s time for adults to teach kids more about technology than just how to avoid Internet predators.

“Just off the top, those of you who think you’re here for an Internet safety speech, raise your hands?” Shapiro asked a room full of parents and educators right before one of his lectures. “I’d like you to change your paradigm for a minute because I think we’ve all heard so much about Internet safety at different points … and safety is so important. But technology, which is what we’re really dealing with today, is a much bigger issue.”

Digital citizenship defined

eli shapiro social worker
Dr. Eli Shapiro is a licensed clinical social worker with a doctorate in education. He founded The Digital Citizenship project in 2014.

That bigger issue, Shapiro told us from his office in Long Island, NY, is digital citizenship. He said this set of “norms” around responsible technology-related behaviour is being defined “by the community” at large, and that the definition evolves along with technology. He started exploring digital citizenship while doing his doctoral dissertation on cyberbullying in 2012.

“I realized the issues weren’t just about bullying and graphic content on the Internet,” Shapiro says, “but also social functioning and behavioural functioning. It’s not only about Internet safety but how technology impacts our lives and our functioning. Does it enhance our lives or serve as an intrusion in our lives? So out of that, the concepts [of digital citizenship] were born. The goal was to educate people by understanding the inherent challenges technology may represent.”

Shapiro founded the Digital Citizenship Project (DCP) in 2014. The organization works with schools, parents and libraries to teach kids about digital citizenship through lectures, workshops, boot camps and its Tech Smart curriculum, which has been used by over 4,700 students.

Why worry?

Research findings are mixed on whether digital tech has a negative impact on young people. An April 2019 study of 17,000 teenagers in the U.S., U.K. and Ireland concluded the negative impact of screen time – via TV, smartphones, tablets, computers and video games – on teens’ well-being is “minuscule” compared with other activities in their lives.

On the other hand, a 2018 study of 40,000 American youth discovered teens aged 14 to 17 who get up to four hours per day of screen time have a higher risk of depression and anxiety disorders.

What seems clearer is that parents are struggling with all of this. The DCP’s research indicates only 38 percent of parents feel confident in managing their children’s technology use.

Tech tips

Dr. Shapiro has used findings from his own academic research to formulate the following suggestions for parents to help their kids become good digital citizens.

futurithmic eli shapiro tech tips for kids

In workplaces around the world, a debate is also raging about digital distraction and its impact on productivity, profits and employee health. In Part Two of this series, we’ll look at how DCP is tackling digital citizenship in the corporate realm.

About Futurithmic

It is our mission to explore the implications of emerging technologies, seeking answers to next-level questions about how they will affect society, business, politics and the environment of tomorrow.

We aim to inform and inspire through thoughtful research, responsible reporting, and clear, unbiased writing, and to create a platform for a diverse group of innovators to bring multiple perspectives.

Futurithmic is building the media that connects the conversation.

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