Teaching Kids About Digital Literacy: Beyond Snap and TikTok
Updated: Jul 30, 2022
You might think with all the time our kids spend online they are destined to have some pretty savvy digital skills and be well-prepared for our future world of work. A majority of today’s kids spend all their free time snapping and “dm-ing” each other. Heck, they basically have an encyclopedia in their pocket.
"On average, children ages 8-12 in the United States spend 4-6 hours a day watching or using screens, and teens spend up to 9 hours." American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry - February 2020
TikTok users watch over 24 hours of content per month.” The Verge - September 7, 2021
“75% of 13 to 34 year olds use Snap. The app is opened on average 30+ times a day.” Zephoria - March 2021
But having a child who’s an expert on Snap does not necessarily make them well prepared for the future world of work. As we mentioned in our September 11th blog, one of the key foundational skills our kids need to thrive in the future is knowing how to operate in a digital environment, and that goes far beyond texts and messages.
Digital What? The Three “Ds” Defined
If you look at how the word “digital” is used today, you’ll see three terms rise to the surface in regards to educating children and their experience in this new digital world. There’s quite a bit of research on all three topics (so feel free to dig further), but we’ll provide a simple definition for each here.
Digital natives refers to anyone growing up as a frequent user of technology. This term refers specifically to children and young adults born after the widespread adoption of technology. You might also hear the term iGen (or Internet Generation) meaning all these tools existed before they were born, so they are growing up using technology as a part of their daily routines.
My kids and likely your kids are digital natives. Imagine that. How many of you (parents) remember getting your first computer? Mine was in college and the monitor was about the size of a slice of bread. Your first mobile phone? That didn’t happen until I graduated from college and got my first job, which required me to be mobile. And I bet a few of us are thankful social media did not exist when we were growing up! Myself included.
Digital Citizenship typically refers to an educational program that is taught at school. As our children become more frequent users of technology, they need to also understand how to act responsibly and respect others in their digital worlds.
Common Sense Media is well-known for its Digital Citizenship Curriculum. The program is intended to be used by teachers, but it is a great framework for families too. They have a comprehensive website full of resources, which you can sort by topic or grade, and if you click into a specific plan you'll find family resources like tips to Help Kids Balance Their Media Lives.
The American Library Association (ALA) defines digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.”
That definition alone should make it pretty clear that not all Digital Natives are automatically destined to be Digitally Literate. Just as our kids learn to read and write, they must also acquire the digital skills necessary to make them responsible digital learners.
Supporting Digital Literacy at Home
We want our kids to be digitally literate. When you look at the research which defines the skills our kids will need to succeed, being “digitally literate” is right at the top of the list.
Our kids today are likely digital natives, but that is no guarantee they will have the necessary skills required for our future world of work. There are numerous ways we can support the digital curriculums being adopted by our schools and encourage responsible use of technology outside the classroom.
Here’s a few ideas to get your started:
Digital Etiquette (aka netiquette)
Bad digital etiquette can be quite frustrating to experience. The long reply-all threads you can’t remove yourself from. The person who insists on TYPING IN ALL CAPS like they are screaming at you. Or the frequent misspelled words and terrible grammar that plagues messages because everyone is typing with their thumbs. Check out this Netiquette Guidelines for Students for a list of 10 rules.
Privacy & Security
All kids should understand the basics of Internet privacy and security. The more independent they become with their online activities, the more they need to understand how to protect their online identity. Check out this Privacy Tips for Teens worksheet with a few pointers you can reinforce at home.
Device Time Out
Most importantly, help your child understand when to put their devices down. Human connection is an incredibly important aspect of our daily lives. Encourage activities with friends that don’t involve their devices. Hiking is one of my favorites because we are typically out of range from any cell tower. Consider making the kitchen table a ‘no tech’ zone so you can have real conversations. This device time out doesn’t just apply to home life. It can also be considered in the work environment - recognizing when conversations, or perhaps disagreements, should be taken offline for a phone call or face-to-face discussion rather than via a text or email.
Join the Discussion
As we encourage our children to become responsible users of technology, it is likely we are continuing to develop these skills in ourselves as well. The American Academy of Pediatrics reminds us that a parent's use of digital media is a strong predictor of their child’s habits. Thus modeling responsible use of digital media in our daily routines is likely to have a positive impact on our child’s behavior.
What are some of the ways you manage digital activity in your home?
About the Author
Jennifer Larson is an entrepreneur, charter school founder and mother to four children. Connect with her @startupjen.