Being a good digital citizen is very similar to being a good citizen in general. What adjectives pop into your head when you think of a ‘good citizen’? Maybe it’s kind, honest, conscientious, alert, helpful. A good citizen may make us think of a person who helps out their neighbor, carries an elderly person’s groceries, holds the door open for people, cares about the community, reports crime, stands up for others, or even that kind someone who moves over on the highway to let others merge (they’re the best). What is consistent about all of these actions? A good citizen, or someone we may describe as a ‘good person,’ is someone who puts others first. This can absolutely be applied to what we do online.
If we understand how our actions affect others and if we care about others, we are already going to make better choices online. Part of being kind means you won’t bully or harass others, which can cause severe emotional harm. Understanding that your words deeply affect others will make you think twice before you post something unkind. No one likes being in pain, so why do that to others? However, being kind doesn’t mean we have to ignore their feelings or reactions to things. They may have strong opinions. Learning to express opinions in a respectful way, even if they are very strong opinions, will not only help you online, but also as you grow into adulthood.
Part of being a good digital citizen is being honest. Being honest online means you won’t hide who you are or take credit for someone else’s work. Some people love to use the internet as a mask, pretending to be someone they’re not. This mask may make it easier to say things you would never say to a person’s face. It could also make it easier to gain followers. Pretending to be someone else or hiding behind a mask is never a good way to convey how you feel. On top of this, it can be an exhausting way to make friends, and those friends don’t know the real you.
What about being conscientious? Being conscientious means having principles and thinking ahead. For teenagers, this isn’t always easy. You may be prone to act first and think about the consequences second. Learning to stop and think of the consequences, even for a second, can protect yourself and others.
Even though apps and websites advertise or act like the things you post go away after a certain amount of time, the truth is anything you post exists forever. This might be okay for innocent things, like conversations between you and your friends and family, but dangerous when inappropriate content is sent. Sharing or sending inappropriate content means that content is out there on the web beyond your control, and can never be permanently deleted. In addition, posting information that includes another person’s address, school name, or other personal information online could put them in danger. For instance, people online may not always be who they say they are. You need to be alert, about who you share things with, and where. The digital world can be scary, but with a little thinking ahead, many of those fears and consequences can be avoided.
A helpful digital citizen will use their knowledge for good. There are so many good resources for learning and creating online. You can use these to help others, whether that’s by sharing what you’ve learned or created, or teaching others. You can help those who understand the digital world a little less. Let’s face it, the people in your life probably know less about the internet, apps, and devices than you do. You can teach them how to make good choices online, and probably can teach them how things work too. So, ask them if they would like to learn!