Healthy Digital Citizens

Helping Kids Stay Active & Safe in the Internet Age

A resource for parents, grandparents, guardians, and educators to help kids thrive

Healthy Digital Citizens

Thanks to the growth of technology, the world is full of more and more opportunities for kids growing up these days. But all this technology comes with its own set of unique challenges and concerns.

Healthy Digital Citizens is meant to be a helpful resource for adults who want to teach kids the principles of safe, responsible, and healthy technology use. This includes principles of good digital citizenship like internet safety and digital literacy, as well as digital wellness.

This resource has two main sections, based on these two core pillars of being a healthy digital citizen: Internet Safety and Digital Wellness.

You can use the information here to educate yourself and to get ideas about how to teach kids these important topics.

Internet Safety

Helping kids safely navigate the online world

Digital Wellness

Helping kids develop healthy technology habits

Internet Safety

These days, it’s not uncommon for kids to know more about using technology than the adults in their lives.

We’re continually amazed at how quickly toddlers can learn to navigate a smartphone. We’re amused when they hold something up to their ear and pretend to talk on the phone, mirroring the behavior of adults in their lives. 

But just because kids are digital natives, doesn’t mean they always know how to use their devices responsibly. They don’t have the social skills or emotional intelligence of adults.

So it’s important that kids are taught how to use the Internet and technology safely. 

In this section, we’ve covered some core principles to keep in mind when teaching Internet Safety to kids.

The Importance of Open Communication

The most essential part of helping kids learn about safe internet use is to simply start the conversation and keep it open.

Kids need to feel comfortable talking to trusted adults. 

The more open and positive the communication, the more likely kids will be to ask questions about technology use.

Make it clear that you want them to tell you if they ever see something online that makes them uncomfortable or confused. Encourage them to always ask questions, and be open to whatever they have to say.

Image: Julia Cameron

Kids and teens might be afraid they’ll be in trouble if they go tell parents or other adults about what they come across on the Internet.

This means it’s important for adults to ask questions, listen, keep an open mind, and help them understand you are there to help.

The most important thing you can do is try to develop a relationship of trust.

Start with genuine curiosity about kids’ internet behavior. Take an interest in how they’re actually spending their time when they seem glued to their tablet or smartphone screen.

Ask them what games, sites, and YouTube channels they like and don’t like. Have real, engaging conversations about their technology use.  

“Before installing any filters or monitoring software or freaking out over all the things that could happen, ask your kids what they think. You may find out they know more than you think they do and you might learn something about your own online safety, privacy and security. ”

– Larry Magid (Source)

By establishing an open dialog early with your kids, you’ll be better able to talk about safe and healthy technology use as your kids get older as well.

Technology and the Internet is constantly changing, and so is each kid’s relationship with it. A Kindergartener has a different relationship with the Internet than a kid entering Middle School, for example.

Rather than having a conversation about Internet safety once, these are topics that you should speak openly about on an ongoing basis.

The good new is, parents today are talking to their kids and having an influence on their online behavior. According to Pew Research Center, “virtually all parents of online teens (98%) have talked to their children about the way to behave online and cope with problems in sometimes-challenging internet realms.”

And even more good news, kids appear to be listening.

“These important conversations do not appear to have fallen on deaf ears; when we asked teens about the conversations they had with their parents, there was considerable overlap in the topics covered.”

– Pew Research Center (Source)

All of this should be encouraging if you’re looking to start or improve the conversation with your kids about their online behavior.

They’re expecting it, and they’re listening.

Safe Sharing

The Internet allows us to communicate and share information with anyone, anywhere in the world.

This incredible ability also means we have to be careful about what we share and with whom. 

It’s important for kids to understand 3 key principles about sharing safely online.  

  1. Manage your digital footprint
  2. Understand what’s safe to share
  3. Respect others’ privacy

Helping kids learn about the importance of safe, responsible online sharing will protect them from many of the potential negative consequences of Internet use. Let’s go over each of these safe sharing principles.

Manage Your Digital Footprint

Your digital footprint is all the information about you that appears online.

This includes photos, public posts, comments, texts, private messages, emails, and any activity in online accounts.

Kids need to understand that everything they share in the digital world can become public and permanent, even if they don’t intend for it to be. Once something is on the Internet, you should assume it can there forever. 

Image: Julia Cameron

A public post or comment can be seen by anyone, and even private posts and texts can be screen captured or shared in other unintended ways. 

“Remind [your children and grandchildren] that material they post on the Internet is more permanent than a tattoo.”

Carol Lippert Gray (Source)

Kids should know and understand that they have a digital footprint, what it is, and why it matters.

They should understand that there are potential consequences for everything that they share on a digital device.

Being aware of their digital footprint, kids will be more likely to stop and think carefully about what they want to share and with whom.

Understand What’s Safe to Share

Once kids have an understanding of their digital footprint and the importance of being smart about what they share online, they need to know which information is meant to be private and which is ok to be shared.

Here are examples of what to share with whom: 

  • Passwords, personal information, and financial information – Never share
  • An embarrassing photo of a family member – Share with family
  • A fun photo of friends – Share with friends, or share online with permission

There are more examples, and you can have kids think of things they typically share, and who they should or shouldn’t share them with.

Kids need to understand that anything they send or share online could end up being seen by the entire world forever.

They should stop and think before ever posting something online to decide if they would be ok with that.

Respect Others’ Privacy

Everyone has the right to set their own boundaries for online privacy.

It’s important that kids learn to acknowledge and respect the privacy boundaries of others. 

For example, one kid might think it’s perfectly fine to share a silly photo of themselves and their friends on their social account. But their friend might not be comfortable with that.

Kids should learn to ask permission before posting anything public.

This includes not taking videos of other kids at school and posting them online.

When it comes to respecting others’ privacy, teach kids that they should always ask for permission before posting anything about their friends or anyone other than themselves.

They should never assume someone else is OK with a photo, video, screenshots of their messages, etc. being shared online.

Online Privacy & Security

There are two simple, fundamental principles to understand that go a long way to protecting your online security and privacy: 

  1. Create a strong password
  2. Keep it secret, and never share it with anyone

There’s more to online security and privacy than that. But it’s a great start if kids can learn the importance of protecting their passwords.

Create a Strong Password

Creating a strong password can mean the difference between your accounts being hacked or not. Simple one-word passwords or otherwise obvious passwords (like using names and birthdays) can be easily cracked by cyber attackers.

By simply adding special characters, you can significantly reduce the chances that your password will be hacked.

This is a fun video about creating a strong, secure password.

Never Share Your Password with Anyone

Once kids have a strong password, it’s important that they don’t share it with anyone. Help kids understand that passwords fall in the “Never Share” category of information.

Even if a friend thinks it’s no big deal, sharing your password is not a good idea.

If you need to share your password with someone for some reason, you can use a password manager like LastPass, or change the password to something different briefly while you give them access. 

Kids should understand there is no reason they should ever share their passwords, but especially not with people they don’t know. 

Scams & Phishing

Once kids know what information is not ok to not share (and that they should never share passwords, or personal or financial information), they will be better equipped to avoid scams and phishing attempts.

Because kids can tend to overshare online, they are often prime targets for scammers and phishing emails or websites. 

Help kids understand that there are people online who are trying to trick them into giving away their money or personal information.

Then help them learn how to identify what is real and what is fake online. 

One general idea to teach kids is that if something sounds too good to be true online, it probably is

Image: Annie Spratt

Again, this is where open communication becomes so important. Kids should feel comfortable asking adults if something is real or fake. 

One way to identify phishing emails and websites is to look carefully at the URL of the website or email address.

If a site seems a little off, you can type in the exact URL of the real website (or do a Google search for it) and check to see if it the URLs match.

If they don’t, you can report it.

You can report phishing emails and websites here: https://www.us-cert.gov/report-phishing

Encourage kids to come talk to you if they ever find an email or website they think might be fake.

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying has become a significant safety and mental health issue for kids today.

In the past, bullying was limited to in-person interactions, but now, kids can be bullied 24/7 online through texts, social media, and other technology.

According to a survey of 1,000 teachers, cyberbullying was the top online issue for kids in the classroom.

UNICEF reported that 1 in 3 kids has been the target of online bullying, and 1 in 5 has skipped school because of it.

Image: Ibraim Leonardo

It’s important that kids learn to be “upstanders” to bullying rather than bystanders. It can be scary to stand up to bullying and cyberbullying, but here are two key ways kids can help: 

  1. Support the person being bullied by being kind to them privately and/or publicly
  2. Report the incident or incidents to trusted adults

Supporting Those Being Bullied

Kids can do a lot to help stop cyberbullying by simply not joining in.

Cyberbullying can sometimes have a snowball effect, with more and more kids joining in to add their comments making fun of someone. Perhaps thinking it’s all good fun, or not wanting to be excluded.

By simply not joining in, kids can help stop cyberbullying. They can stop the spread of harmful or untrue messages by not passing them on to others.

It’s important to help kids think about “what if this was happening to you,” whenever they see cyberbullying that may seem relatively harmless.

Being kind is always cool.

Image: Julia Cameron

Reporting Cyberbullying

One of the most important things kids (and adults) can do when they see cyberbullying is simply to report it.

Encourage kids to talk to a counselor, teacher, coach, or other trusted adult if they see someone being bullied or cyberbullied.

Here are some signs to look for if you suspect a kid might be being cyberbullied.

  1. Seems nervous when they get a text or message
  2. Feels nervous about going to school
  3. Unwilling to talk about online activity
  4. Abruptly walks away from the computer mid-use
  5. Inexplicable stomach aches

Stopbullying.gov is a great resource for questions about cyberbullying. This video outlines some ways kids can become “upstanders” and help stop bullying.

UNICEF asked thousands of teenagers what questions they had about cyberbullying. The questions and their answers are posted here: https://www.unicef.org/end-violence/how-to-stop-cyberbullying. This is another great resource for kids and adults who want to help stop cyberbullying.

Whether it’s online or offline, the principle is the same. It’s cool to be kind and to stick up for others, and it always will be.

Help kids learn the importance of being kind to others and to themselves, and to not tolerate bullying behavior of any kind.

Digital Wellness

Digital wellness is an emerging concept focused on the healthy use of technology.

It includes physical health as well as mental and emotional health, relating to how we use technology in daily life. 

With the growth of technology like the Internet and smartphones, kids are becoming less physically active, more visually stimulated, and more socially exposed.

These trends have the potential to create very real health issues for kids.

It’s important for adults to help kids learn to use technology in a way that encourages better physical, mental, and emotional health.

Screen Time

Much of digital wellness comes down to finding a healthy balance of media use or “screen time.”

That said, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to how much screen time is right for each kid’s situation.

And there are different kinds of screen time.

Image: Pan Xiaozhen

Engaging with quality, educational online content is different from casually scrolling through social media.

Additionally, time spent working on schoolwork or homework is typically not counted in the screen time recommendations made by organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) or The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

“Rather than simply talking about ‘screen time’, discuss in a more nuanced way the activities on the device—whether they are developmentally appropriate, mood enhancing, and educational.”

 – Nick Allen Ph.D. (Source)

Whatever you decide about screen time, it’s important to help kids see the benefits of managing their screen time and use of technology each day.

You can create a family media plan, and commit together to stick to it, or update it as needed.

Physical Activity

With so much technology, it’s easy for kids to sit in front of a TV, computer, tablet, and smartphone all day and never engage in physical activity.

Too much inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to health problems like obesity.

But this doesn’t have to be the case.

“First and foremost, we need to make sure that an adequate amount of physical activity is introduced into a child’s everyday life, with at least 60 minutes of physical activity recommended per day as well as 30 minutes of vigorous activity three times per week.”

– RADM Steven K Galson, MD, MPH (Source)
Image: Taylor Smith

Parents can help encourage kids to engage in physical activity every day, by suggesting fun ways to get moving.

It helps to make some kind of physical activity a daily habit or part of a routine. 

“Rather than creating a negative frame around time with technology, as parents and digital mentors we should be creating positive, non-digital experiences for kids.”

– Natasha Bhuyan, MD (Source)

Here are some ideas for how to help kids get physically active.

Outdoor Activity Ideas

Try these activities when you can get outside and enjoy some fresh air.

  1. Go for a walk or bike ride – This is a really easy way to get moving. 
  2. Go rollerblading, skateboarding, or scootering – If you have the equipment, this can be a lot of fun. 
  3. Play a sport like basketball, soccer, or tennis – Learn the rules of a new sport and try it out. Check out our simple guide on how to play tennis.
  4. Play catch or throw a frisbee – Great for playing at the park or your yard. 
  5. Go on a hike – Do a Google search for hikes and nature walks in your area. You might be surprised what you find. 
  6. Go to the pool – Swimming and playing at a pool is a fun way to get physically active. 
  7. Wash the car – This is a double whammy. You get a clean car and active kids. 
  8. Play wiffleball or kickball – Organize a neighborhood game of kickball in the park or your yard, or even head to some local softball fields.
  9. Find a new playground or swing set – Bored of your same park? Explore a new neighborhood and see what you find.
Image: Myles Tan

Indoor Activity Ideas

Here are some ideas for staying physically active indoors. This might be the case if the weather is bad, you don’t have nearby open space, or even situations like the COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. Learn a new dance from YouTube – Try to master the moves of the latest dance trend. 
  2. Have a dance party or karaoke night – Turn up the music and move your bodies. 
  3. Hallway bowling – Stack up water bottles or something tall at one end of the hallway. Roll a ball down and count how many you knock over. 
  4. Build a blanket fort – Pull out the couch cushions and throw blankets. 
  5. Keep the balloon in the air – A simple game where you try to keep a balloon from hitting the ground. 
  6. Play Wii Fit – A great way to use technology to get physically active. 
  7. Watch a workout or yoga video – There are tons of videos online to help get your heart rate up. Find ones that are fun and work for you and your family.
Image: Valeria Ushakova

Activities for Indoor or Outdoor Settings

These are some activities you can try out pretty much anywhere.

  1. Play Follow the Leader or Simon Says – This is a great way to get your bodies moving, and can easily be done anywhere, even in small spaces. 
  2. Organize a scavenger hunt – Hide clues around the house or yard, and follow along with the kids from clue to clue until you find the prize. 
  3. Play hopscotch – Draw a hopscotch grid on the ground with sidewalk chalk, or outline with socks if you’re indoors. 
  4. Hula hoop – A fun way to get your bodies moving. 
  5. Do yoga – Yoga has tons of physical and mental health benefits, and there are tons of free online yoga videos and resources. 
  6. Set up an obstacle course or maze – Time kids and see if they can beat their records. 
  7. Jump rope – A simple way to get your bodies moving. 
  8. Play Musical Chairs or Duck Duck Goose – Not just for birthday parties. These kinds of party games can be a fun way to get kids moving. 
  9. Have a physical fitness competition – See how many pushups, situps, pullups, or other physical fitness exercises they can do. Record their progress over time. 
  10. Learn to juggle – Learning a new hobby like juggling can be a fun way to get moving. 

There are many more ideas you could try. Brainstorm your own list with your kids to come up with fun ways to be physically active every day.

Keep in mind it’s recommended kids get both moderate to intense physical activity (30 minutes, 3 times per week), as well as time for unstructured play (60 minutes, every day).

Help kids experience first-hand how fun being physically active can be, and it will be more likely to stick as a healthy habit.

Sleep

Sleep is another major aspect of kids’ health that can potentially be affected by technology.

Limiting screen time before bed is one important step that can be taken to help kids (and adults) get better sleep. 

Removing the light and stimuli from digital devices may help reduce insomnia, which may also reduce tiredness and irritability during the day. The blue light emitted by digital screens can suppress melatonin production, a hormone responsible for controlling your sleep-wake cycle.

Image: Gianni Orefice

Here are 3 suggested ways you might consider helping kids balance screen time and healthy sleep.

  1. Set a technology cut-off time or curfew. Even shutting off devices 30 minutes before bed can have an impact. Reducing exposure to light tells the body it’s time for bed, and encourages melatonin production, which helps the body to go to sleep.
  2. Establish a bedtime routine. Regardless of technology use, just having a set routine before bed can help the body get ready to sleep. 
  3. Remove technology from the bedroom. This is a simple way to eliminate any late-night technology use. 

As with anything related to digital wellness, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to how to balance technology use and healthy sleep.

Focus on the end goal of getting adequate, healthy sleep, and find what works for each kids’ unique situation.

Mental & Emotional Health

Kids today are growing up in a world that in many ways revolves around the Internet, and especially social media.

The jury is still out on conclusive research on the effects of social media on kids’ mental and emotional health, but there is little question that it can potentially have harmful effects. 

Image: Pixabay

Increased anxiety, depression, decreased social and relationship skills, as well as body image and confidence issues.

These are some of the potential negative consequences engaging with social media can have on developing brains.

And these negative consequences aren’t exclusive to kids and teens, either. Adults can be just as vulnerable to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and life envy due to a constant stream of the perfect lives we may see online. 

Here are some ways to support kids who may be struggling with mental and emotional health issues like self-esteem.

  1. Talk openly with kids, including your thoughts on and relationship with social media. Knowing that other people may struggle with the same things, including adults, can help them to feel less isolated and more supported. 
  2. Set some ground rules around social media use. Help them see the benefits of not being plugged into everything that’s happening online. 
  3. Work together to think of healthy coping mechanisms to help them deal with the normal anxiety of life as a kid or teen. These might include learning a new hobby, joining a club or sports team, meditating, writing nice notes to yourself and others, going for a walk, journaling, drawing, or just carving out time for doing something you already love. 

“Don’t be afraid to talk about social media as a phenomenon that effects not just them but everyone. This may make it easier for them to open up and think critically. For example you might discuss whether social media can distort expectations of beauty or popularity.”

– Dr. Linda Papadopoulos (Source)

The Internet and social media have the potential to negatively affect kids’ self-esteem, anxiety levels, and other aspects of their mental and emotional health. But there is a lot that parents and other adults can do to help kids to have a more positive relationship with technology and social media.

Start by trying to talk openly about their thoughts about social media and the Internet. Then help them to think of healthy ways they can learn to manage their stress, anxiety, and other mental and emotional health issues.

Resources

You can use these resources to assist you in teaching kids about the principles of safe, healthy technology use.

PDF Download – A Good Digital Citizen

Print out this coloring sheet and give it to the kids in your class or at home. As they color it in, review each of the points, and make sure they understand each one. Then have them check the box saying that they’ll choose to be a good digital citizen, and have them sign their name and date it.

Download / Print the PDF

If you’d like to embed this image on your website, you can copy and paste the code below.

<a href="https://www.tennisdepartment.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/good-digital-citizen-coloring-sheet-1-791x1024.jpg"><img src="https://www.tennisdepartment.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/good-digital-citizen-coloring-sheet-1-791x1024.jpg" style="max-width: 600px;" /></a><p>Image from <a href="https://tennisdepartment.com/healthy-digital-citizens">Tennis Department</a></p>

Digital Citizenship Vocabulary

The following are some important terms that you can teach kids to help them understand how to be better digital citizens.

Anonymous: An unnamed or unknown person. If someone is anonymous online, you don’t know their identity. You can also be anonymous yourself, if you don’t want others to know your identity. 

Bot: Software that automatically follows commands, answers questions, or performs simple tasks. Common examples are Siri, Alexa, and support and sales chatbots used on websites. 

Block: A way to end all interaction with another person online. Depending on the settings of the network, this will prevent them from seeing your profile or sending you messages. 

Bullying: Being purposefully mean to someone – usually someone who has a harder time defending themselves. 

Bystander:  Someone who sees and recognizes bullying but doesn’t help.

Catfishing: Using a fake identity online to trick people. This tactic is often used to get people to share their personal information, and is also used by child predators. 

Cyberbullying: Any bullying or purposeful mean behavior that happens online or through digital devices. This includes mean texts, social media posts, and anything that’s intimidating, threatening, or mean-spirited. 

Digital Citizen: A digital citizen is anyone who uses the Internet and other digital technology in safe, responsible, and respectful ways.

Digital Footprint: All the information about you that appears online. This includes photos, comments, “likes,” and any activity that happens on a digital device. Once something is online, it could be made public and permanent. 

Digital Wellness: The healthy use of technology. This includes physical, mental, and emotional health. 

Hacker: Someone who tries to break into the online accounts people and organizations, usually to steal their information and data. 

Oversharing: Sharing too much personal information online. 

Personal Information: Information that identifies you or another person. This includes your name, street address, Social Security number, phone number, and email address. This is also called “sensitive” information, and you should really think carefully and know for sure that you trust a website before sharing it. 

Password: A secret combination characters used to log in to accounts. Passwords should be as long as complex as possible, while still being memorable. 

Phishing: A dishonest attempt to trick you into sharing information online – usually through emails, ads, or websites that are made to look exactly like sites you already trust. 

Privacy: Protecting people’s personal information from public view. Online privacy refers to the ability to control what information you share and with whom. 

Scam: A dishonest attempt to trick you into paying money or giving up something of value. 

Screen Time: The amount of time spent using devices like televisions, computers, tablets, and smartphones. 

Security: The protection of the software, accounts, and data on the Internet and digital devices. 

Settings: The menu in apps, websites, or other accounts where you define how your account is handled. Your Privacy Settings is where you can define what information you share and with whom. 

Source: A person, organization, or website that provides information. When verifying if information is true, it’s important to learn to look for and consider the source of the information. 

Trolling: Posting or commenting online in a way that’s offensive, irrelevant, or controversial in an effort to distract or draw a reaction. It’s best to just ignore “Trolls.” 

Upstander: Someone who sees and recognizes bullying, and chooses to help. You can help by trying to stop it, supporting the target privately or publicly, and/or reporting the incident to adults.

Video Center

Here is a collection of helpful videos for adults and kids to learn about topics like digital citizenship and digital wellness.

Resource Links

Be Internet Awesome by Google – An interactive online game and other resources to help kids learn to safely navigate the Internet.

Common Sense Digital Citizenship Curriculum – Videos and lesson plans to help teach kids digital citizenship topics.

Digital Compass – An online game by Common Sense Media to teach kids about navigating the Internet.

CyberWise Digital Citizenship – Curriculum and other resources for teaching students about digital citizenship.

StopBullying.gov – Resources to help prevent cyberbullying.

SafeKids.com – Helpful resources to teach kids about Internet topics.

UrbanDictionary.com – You can use this site to look up slang, acronyms, or other language you hear kids using that you don’t understand. NetLingo.com is another good resource for this purpose.

Summary

Here is a summary of some key points we’ve covered to help kids stay safe, healthy, and physically active in the Internet Age.

  1. Communicate openly with kids about their use of technology. Help kids see that you are willing to listen to them, and that they can trust you to be understanding and helpful.
  2. Teach kids about their digital footprint and safe sharing. Help them to understand that whatever they share online could be made public and permanent. Help them to know what is okay to share and with whom. 
  3. Teach kids to never share their passwords or personal information, except with sites they already know and trust. 
  4. Help kids learn to spot scams and phishing. The FTC has more information on how to identify scams and phishing. FTC Website.
  5. Encourage kids to report cyberbullying, to not participate (think of the Golden Rule), and to support other kids who are being bullied. 
  6. Set limits for the amount and types of screen time each day. 
  7. Encourage kids to be physically active for at least an hour each day. Try some of the activities suggested above, or think of your own ways to help kids be physically active. 
  8. To encourage better sleep, establish a bedtime routine. Ideally, one that includes a cut-off time for digital devices. 
  9. Help kids improve their mental and emotional health by talking openly, limiting their social media use, and developing healthy psychological coping mechanisms. 

Helping kids develop safe, healthy habits around technology isn’t something that happens after one conversation.

There is a lot to cover and technology is always changing, so it’s important to have an open, ongoing dialogue around these topics.

We hope this information has helped you get a better understanding of how you can help the kids in your life to live safer, healthier lives.