Digital citizenship starts at home

What your district can do to support K-12 parents as partners in teaching appropriate digital behavior.
By: | May 19, 2022
Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

Amy Bennett

Citizenship lessons have long been a part of school curriculums, but now that so much social interaction and education happens online, it is imperative that schools also address digital citizenship. Schools that aim to become digital citizenship hubs need help from parents and caregivers to teach and reinforce how to be a good digital citizen.

Outside of school and homework, children as young as 2-to-4-year-olds often spend over two hours a day looking at a screen—and that number only increases as children become tweens and teens. It’s imperative that parents have frequent, open conversations with their children about healthy online activities and good digital citizenship, and that they start those conversations early.

But parents need guidance, too. Many people with school-age children today didn’t grow up using social media and may be unsure how to help their children navigate unfamiliar terrain like online bullying, the pressure to share personal information or photos, or screentime addiction. Other parents, such as non-English speakers or those with an inability to attend in-person meetings with school leaders, might not have access to the kinds of resources and information that could help.

Why digital citizenship is so important 

While media and technology hold great promise for learning, children need the right support and education to make healthy and appropriate judgments as they navigate the digital world. Teaching digital citizenship is essential if your district wants to help students achieve and understand digital literacy, online safety, digital responsibility, and digital health and wellness.

Cyberbullying is one major concern for parents and educators alike that digital citizenship training can help address. Digital citizenship means helping students connect online behavior to how they want to be treated. Instilling a sense of empathy in children from an early age is another critically important way to help prevent all kinds of bullying.

Here are some current statistics about cyberbullying to keep in mind:

  • 23% of students reported that they’ve said or done something mean or cruel to another person online, and 27% reported that they’ve been the victim of the same behavior by someone else
  • About 37% of young people between the ages of 12 and 17 have been bullied online, and 30% have had it happen more than once
  • 95% of teens in the U.S. are online, and the majority of them access the internet on their mobile device, making it the most common medium for cyberbullying

Digital citizenship: Are your schools R.E.A.D.Y.?


In addition to cyberbullying, parents may also be unaware of how prevalent sexploitation has become amongst students. Digital citizenship training can also help parents address sexting and the sending of inappropriate photos. When parents are aware of the potential risks, they can be better equipped to have open and honest conversations with their kids about responsible and respectful behavior.

  • Nearly 40% of all teenagers have posted or sent sexually suggestive messages, though the practice is more common among boys than girls
  • 17% of sexters share the messages they receive with someone else, and 55% of those share them with more than one person
  • 15% of teens who have sent or posted inappropriate images of themselves sent those messages to people they had never met in person but knew only from the internet

Tips to get parents involved in digital citizenship 

Teaching students about the consequences of irresponsible online behavior is imperative to their safety and success, and schools play an important role. But at the end of the day, parents are responsible for setting rules and limits for their children at home. Schools and parents need to act as a united front.  It’s not an easy task. Parent responses to the implementation of digital citizenship curriculum may vary. Many families already enforce technology boundaries and may be relieved to know these lessons are part of the school’s program. Other caregivers might be guarded about a program that teaches something akin to “morality.” And still other parents might not have the resources or the background knowledge to teach digital citizenship to their children at home. But the more parents know about your school’s digital citizenship program, the more likely they will be to take co-ownership of the effort.

Here are some tips to get parents involved:

  • Introduce digital citizenship to parents as early in the year as possible, and encourage even the parents of very young kids to start talking about digital citizenship at home
  • Provide parents with digital citizenship resources
  • Be transparent about the steps your district takes to keep students safe online, including additions to the curriculum and any available workshops for families
  • Have a digital citizenship check-in during parent-teacher conferences
  • Share research and statistics on social media use by children and teens so parents can learn about common risks and problems, and know that they and their children are not alone in facing these issues
  • Send family-centered digital citizenship activities home with students to help start an open and healthy dialogue, being sure to make these activities are fully accessible, including to non-English language speakers and people with limited online access

It is critical for kids to learn how to safely use technology at a young age. It’s not fair or realistic to expect them to figure out technology on their own, including how to avoid unsafe activities. Work with your child’s school to become part of their digital citizenship initiative. Teach your child to practice good digital citizenship so they don’t fall victim to the dangers that lurk online, can safely navigate, and enjoy their technology, and ultimately, have a healthy relationship with technology as adults.

Amy Bennet is Chief of Staff at Lightspeed Systems. Lightspeed Systems® is trusted in 28,000 schools across 38 countries to deliver the safest, most effective digital learning experience for every student.

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