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 media 

• thinking about how your online activities affect yourself, other people you know, and 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 collaborative and social. 

For example, games like Minecraft allow children to work with others to build new worlds. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok help teenagers keep up with local and long-distance friendships, share experiences and support peers. 

The culture of sharing helps children and teenagers feel connected to a larger global community. As digital citizens, teenagers express themselves by sharing and posting comments, images 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 memes. 

Sometimes the anonymity of the internet can be a bonus – for example, if teenagers 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 understand 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 okay. This is often about discovery and self-expression, which are important for your child’s development.

Key messages for safe and responsible digital citizenship

These key messages can encourage your child to be safe and responsible online, while still having fun: 

• Be respectful – and expect respect. 

• Protect your reputation. 

• Protect your privacy. 

• Watch your tone. 

• Be sceptical.

​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 face-to-face friends. Part of this is not creating or forwarding nasty or humiliating emails, images or text messages about someone else. 

You can also encourage your child to tell you or another trusted adult if they see 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 they’re 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, they should block or unfriend people who don’t treat them with respect. This sends the message that it’s not okay to mistreat or bully someone online.

Protect your reputation

Make sure your child understands the consequences of posting photos and videos, 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. 

Also, photos can be altered or shared without your child’s permission. It’s a good idea to encourage your child to think about the online content or behaviour their future self might be comfortable with. For example, you might say, ‘Some photos and videos might seem okay 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 they show you posts, images and other content before they upload them.

Protect your privacy

There are several ways your child can protect their 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 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 posts and emails, and jokes can easily be misinterpreted. You can encourage your child to ‘stop, think, review’ before they send a message or post an online comment. Using emojis or hashtags can help.

Be sceptical

There are many 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 they share with people they don’t know. If something seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. 

You and your child can find out how to recognise, avoid and report scams on ScamAlert, a website run by the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC). If your child isn’t sure about a site’s credibility, they can ask themselves, ‘Whose interest does this site serve?’ The answer can help your child work out which sites and offers are dodgy, and which have accurate news and information. 

Your child should also be careful about clicking pop-ups on websites. Some pop-ups that seem safe can 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 using social media responsibly and cyberbullying.

© raisingchildren.net.au, translated and adapted with permission