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Supporting Our Digital Natives

According to a 2018 study conducted by Brigham Young University, the number one issue that parents of teenagers are worried about is no longer drugs, drinking, sex, or rock and roll, it is the use of mobile devices and the impact of all things digital on lives of teens.

Why is this such a growing area of concern for parents? There are several factors that contribute to this statistic. The rise of mobile technology, especially in the social lives of our teens is certainly one. The lack of real scientific evidence and accessible studies is another. But above all it, parental anxiety is mostly due to their students being "digital natives", while most of them are not. Their children grew up during the rise of mobile technology and culture while their parents, as "digital immigrants", are just starting to understand how these devices function.

Most parents do not know where to get guidance on the challenges 21st-century adolescence presents, and to be fair there aren’t many readily-available resources to access. Schools have an important role to play as educators of not just their students, but the wider community as well. Inaction on this front is not an option.

As a native of Northern California, I know this well. Recently, devastating wildfires raged unchecked across my home state, the result of years of inaction and poorly planned forest management. The state did its best to react to the blaze, but this proved insufficient, and many people lost their homes as a result.

Digital citizenship plans, like proper management of forests, can prevent small issues from becoming all-consuming disasters. You can spend your time putting out blazes as they occur, or you can take some time to plan some preventative measures that help prevent these small sparks before they catch.

What does a strong digital citizenship plan include? Here is an example of a multi-pronged approach that you can use as the foundation for your schools own Digital Citizenship plan;

Infrastructure: Start by putting in place hardware that can control your environment. Understand that while It is impossible to protect students from all the objectionable content on the Internet, you can do certain things to greatly limit their exposure. Understanding how your internet provider's filtering options work or getting third-party filtering software and hardware is important. Making sure that school devices are regulated and locked down as much as possible. Buy management software such as Jamf or invest in a Google domain so that you can access the Google Admin panel. Chromebooks can be managed within the domain and are very popular due to their low price-point. A Google domain is also good because you can give each student a controllable email address which you can further filter and use to block spam and other malicious content from getting at them.

Student Activity Monitoring: In addition to limiting attacks and objectionable content from the outside, you’ll want to make sure you have solutions to monitor and control student activity on the inside. Giving your teacher software that allows them to monitor student activity can add an extra level of protection. On Chromebook devices, software like GoGuadian can record and report inappropriate activity automatically. The deployment of these types of systems is equally important. Instead of using software like this as a “gotcha” tool, be open with your students about why you're using it and what It can do. Tell them you expect them to make the right choices as you’ll be able to see them make the wrong ones, and hopefully, they won't disappoint you.

Clear School Policies: A crucial part of the administrative triangle is a clearly articulated policy that helps students and their families understand exactly what is and is not allowed when it comes to technology. What happens if a device is damaged? How should shared resources, like computers in carts, but checked out and managed by teachers? Can teachers use social media, like Instagram, in class? If a student leaves their school-issued computer unattended, is there a consequence? While this may seem unconnected to digital citizenship, it is very important because in the absence of clear guidelines students may forge their own path and make costly mistakes in the process.

Of particular interest to older students are BYOD Policies that dictate how personal mobile devices can be used at school. Are personal devices allowed? Do you allow teachers to make that choice so they can be used for school projects, or is it school wide? Where can they be utilized or at what times? There are many examples of BYOD policies that you can look at and model your own after, but makes sure that whatever policies you adopt, they are clearly communicated in a user agreement and based upon your schools technology goals.

Teacher Support: Classroom teachers have the most contact time with students and are in the best position to help them survive and thrive in their digital environment. To be effective, they need to be well prepared with training and resources. Common Sense Media is the leader for all things digital citizenship, providing teachers with lessons, training, and a plethora of resources that can give teachers the background they need to provide quality support. They also provide certifications for both teachers and schools. For younger students, Google provides resources as well with their new Be Internet Awesome campaign. Whatever path you choose, one constant should be not just providing links or lesson plans. There is also a New Zealand based website called Netsafe that provides applicable educational resources also. Whatever you decide to use, make it a part of your professional development or staff meetings so that teachers can share resources and best practices.

Student Education: At its core, Digital Citizenship focuses on helping students make informed and safe choices regarding the digital world. How you do that for your students depends on your schedule, school size, and your policies regarding technology, but doing nothing is not an option. Many schools choose to set aside a specific instructional block for building digital literacy using one of the resources mentioned above, while others try to integrate it into classroom lessons that involve the use of technology, using classroom content as the vehicle for building this skills. An example of this would be when students are writing a research report on US Presidents showing them what to look for when judging the validity of the information they are finding or requiring them to corroborate their facts with at least two sources. Two great choices for schools with little planning time are Digital Passport for K-5 students, and Digital Compass for middle school students. Whatever model you choose, make sure that your model is in compliance with your states laws regarding internet safety and education. Not all states have laws on the books, but the number is growing.

Parent and Community Education – Even more than students and teachers, parents have lots of questions about technology and its effects on the lives of their children. Much of the anxiety regarding issues like screen time, cyberbullying, social media, and the use of mobile technology comes from not knowing where to find information or not having access to resources where they kind find reliable information themselves. Always try to direct them towards authoritative sources, like the Parent Resource page on, and have them avoid online parent chat rooms where misinformation and options are exchanged in place of evidence-based research. Common Sense Media produces a yearly research-based report that can be shared to provide a good base of knowledge for parents. When simple readings aren’t enough, bringing in a speaker and holding a parent information night can also help give them the answers they need.

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