As a parent, there are many subjects to discuss with your kids: puberty, sex and death are usually the most common. But what about technology? Where do you even begin?

Digital Citizenship

The website DigitalCitizenship.net defines digital citizenship as “the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use.” 

A good place to start a discussion with your kids can be about digital citizenship. We teach our kids how to behave in the physical world, and how to deal with social interactions. But some parents may not even think about teaching them proper online behavior and etiquette.

Vicki Davis, a teacher and IT Integrator, lays out what she calls the “9 Key Ps” of digital citizenship:

  1. Passwords
  2. Privacy
  3. Personal Information
  4. Photographs
  5. Property
  6. Permission
  7. Protection
  8. Professionalism
  9. Personal Brand

Passwords

It’s important to teach kids how to create secure passwords, and this is a lesson some adults need too. Learning about password managers is a good start, as they are easy to use.

Privacy

Remember: privacy is a right. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has a great article on privacy. If your child’s school has issued devices to the kids like a tablet, you should go into the device’s settings and make sure everything is locked own, if the school’s IT team hasn’t already done so. Some questions to ask:

  • What kind of device has your child received (e.g., Apple iPad, Google Chromebook, Microsoft Surface, etc.)?
  • Which application(s) is your child using (e.g., Google Apps for Education; Microsoft in Education; other cloud-based services; other applications)?
  • Were you or your child given the option to opt out of using the technology?
  • Was your child offered an alternative technology option?
  • Did you or your child authorize a corporation to collect information from your child and used outside the context of their education-focused application?

Personal Information

We’re encouraged to share every detail about ourselves on social networks. But, this is something that should be only shared with people you choose like friends. Sometimes personal information can be used against you, like if a hacker tries to guess your answers to security questions. “What was the name of your first pet?” “What street did you grow up on?” Et cetera. Don’t let potential hackers find these answers on your Facebook profile.

Photographs

The phrase “Let’s take a selfie” has now become almost ingrained in our culture. While this isn’t good or bad in itself, it’s good to teach your kids about the kinds of photos they share online. Sometimes personal information can be shared accidentally in a photo like a license plate or credit card number.

Do your kids know about geotagging and other location-aware features? With the right tools, a hacker can download one of your photos from Facebook and pinpoint your location using certain software. Gizmodo has a good guide to removing location data from photos before sharing them.

If your kids are older, it’s also a good idea to talk to them about sexting. It’s vital that teens are aware of the potential legal consequences of sexting. While it may seem like fun-and-games, teenagers have been arrested on charges of child pornography because they sexted their boyfriend/girlfriend.

Property

Another topic to discuss with your kids is copyright. While the nuances of copyright law can be boring, talk to them about intellectual property. If they use an electronic device for school, help them find royalty-free images and not Google Images. Plagiarism is a hot topic in school, specifically in classes like English, but teachers might not discuss using proper images. A good resource that I often use for my articles is Pixabay.

Permission

This falls under the same umbrella as property. Do your kids know how to get permission for the work they use, and how to cite it? Again, this is probably taught in school, but it doesn’t hurt to include it in a discussion at home.

Protection

No, not that kind of protection, that’s an entirely different conversation! This protection is learning about malware like viruses, spyware, and adware. A good start is downloading some antivirus software.

Professionalism & Personal Brand

These two topics can be grouped together. The topic of a personal brand sounds weird at first. It doesn’t have to be about learning how to market yourself, like for a job. Rather, it’s about asking your kids how they want to be perceived online. Are they intentional about what they share on social networks? Do they realize that things shared online tend to stick around for a long time?

Netiquette

A word you may have seen in the past is netiquette. Short for “internet etiquette”, netiquette is about “electronic responsibility for actions and deeds.” Cyberbullying and online trolling can be a starting point, and depending on how old your kids are, this discussion could even grow to involve subjects like ethics and morals.

As DigitalCitizenship.net says,

“Often rules and regulations are created or the technology is simply banned to stop inappropriate use. It is not enough to create rules and policy, we must teach everyone to become responsible digital citizens in this new society.”

Conclusion

I’d like to conclude by talking about one of my favorite authors, Cory Doctorow. He writes fantastic books for adults and teenagers alike. He has a couple of books that I recommend: Little Brother and Homeland. Think of George Orwell’s 1984 as Little Brother’s spirit animal.

The book, as well as its sequel, Homeland, is told through the eyes of a teenager named Marcus, a.k.a. “w1n5t0n”. The books discuss politics, technology, privacy and surveillance. As you’re reading, you can’t help but ask yourself, “What would I do if falsely accused by the Department of Homeland Security?”

You can get download a free eBook copy of Little Brother here. Also, check out an article that Cory wrote for teenagers called You Are Not a Digital Native: Privacy in the Age of the Internet.

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