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Parenting: How do you teach proper digital behavior?

Monday - 6/2/2014, 6:22am  ET

Digital citizenship is all about being safe, smart, ethical and responsible. And it's up to parents to teach proper digital behavior. (Thinkstock)

Teaching digital citizenship

WTOP's Randi Martin reports


WASHINGTON -- Technology has made today's children digital citizens of the world; they have everything at their fingertips. But as Uncle Ben once told Peter Parker in "Spider-Man," "With great power comes great responsibility."

How do parents teach kids to behave responsibly online?

Crista Sumanik, director of communications at Common Sense Media, an organization that provides parents with information about children and media use, says the key is to outline expectations and monitor your child's use.

"When it's time for your child to get his driver license, you don't just say, ‘You're 16. Here are the keys; drive safely.' You give them the rules of the road," Sumanik says.

The same goes for digital technology. Sumanik says digital citizenship is all about being safe, smart, ethical and responsible.

Heather Cabot, a mom of twins and former digital lifestyle expert for Yahoo, says she instills the "golden rule" when it comes to teaching kids how to interact on the Internet.

"I'm trying to raise kids that are kind to others and understand their responsibility in the world. I try to remind them that those things apply when they are online as well," she says.

However, sometimes this is easier said than done.

One challenge parents face is keeping track of the social networks and social applications their children frequent.

"If you are talking with your kids about what they are doing on Facebook, you're at the tip of the iceberg," Sumanik says. "They're going from Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat to to Whisper to Kik. They are going to places that you probably didn't even know about."

All of these sites are different, and users interact differently on them. Sumanik says kids need parental guidance on their digital explorations in order to learn what comments are hurtful, what should be posted, what photos are acceptable to share, etc. After all, scrubbing a digital profile is a difficult feat.

"My kids are young," says mom and blogger Cabot. "But they know the Internet is forever. What you put up today may not represent who you are in the future when applying to college or trying to get a job."

Sumanik says to keep an open dialogue with your children about their digital use and how they respond to others via technology.

"Consistently talk to your kids about really thinking before they hit send," she says. "Self-reflect before they self-reveal, we say."

So how do you teach your kids to be a responsible digital citizen? Let us know in the comments section of this story, on Twitter or on the WTOP Facebook page. Until then, a local parent shares her take on Internet behavior.

Common Sense Media offers tips to parents on Internet safety.

The uncharted area of parenting kids in the age of social media
Julianna W. Miner

A couple of years ago, I read that the crux of the problem with kids and emerging social technology, such as Twitter, is that children routinely use social media before they're properly socialized. That makes sense.

A socially-awkward 12-year-old in real life is bound to make mistakes on the Internet, especially without a clear example of what they should be doing. But who sets that example?

I have three young kids who are dying to know about, and engage with, technology. I've tried to keep them off the Internet, but thanks to our excellent public school system and the magic of BlackBoard, they're online doing their homework almost every day.

They collaborate with classmates via Google Docs and ask me how to upload YouTube videos into their PowerPoint slides for social studies. I stare blankly at them, wondering how we went from printing out coloring pages to this.

Now I argue with my 8-year-old about playing Minecraft via Xbox Live. Just because the person you're playing with says he's a fourth-grader, doesn't mean he's not actually a random dude from Denmark with candy in his pants.

In the past, kids earned the freedom to make their own mistakes. Of course, in the past, I spent all day roaming around the woods behind my house; my parents were both unaware of my location and totally secure of my well-being.

But now, we live in a different world. I hear that refrain from parents constantly. It is a whole new world. I can't turn my 11-year-old loose on the Internet any more than I can drop her off downtown with $1 for pizza and $1 for bus fare (something I totally did back in 1982).

In 2014, I feel the need to be cautious with their safety. Where the Internet is concerned, I monitor -- even if it sometimes feels invasive to me.

My parents didn't eavesdrop on my phone calls, when I paced back and forth for hours chattering about boys, twining the cork-screwed twirl of the phone cord between my fingers. Now, kids sit in silence and text. Who are you texting? What are you saying? Did you just take a picture?

I've resigned myself to the fact that I must learn about 8-second Vines and how easy it is to screenshot a Snapchat before it disappears. But I don't really want to. It's overwhelming and outside of my comfort zone and it takes a lot of time. I could go on forever with excuses. But I have to. And you know what? I didn't really want to learn about two-handed breast stroke turns, or Girl Scout travel insurance claim forms, or whether runners on first base can steal second on a strike. But when my kids started doing these things, I had to keep up. If I stand any chance of providing a good example to them, I have to learn about the online and social media world in which they live.

We're the first generation of parents trying to manage and moderate our children's access to, and behavior on, social media. Unlike almost every other area of parenting, I can't ask my grandmother or my mom for advice about this. In fact, our failures and successes will form the bedrock of how the next generation of parents deal with whatever technology throws at us (and our kids).

That's terrifying, right? How we choose to parent around this counts. How we choose to balance the freedom to make mistakes, and the safety of providing our oversight will matter in the future.

Editor's Note: Julianna W. Miner writes the award-winning humor blog Rants From MommyLand. She's been featured on Huffington Post,,, and Parents Magazine. She adores her three children, in spite of the fact that they're little terror suspects. She's been married since 1997 and for this, her husband deserves some sort of medal. She currently teaches Public Health at a college she couldn't have gotten into because she made bad choices in high school.

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