Classroom Technology

3 Tips for Teaching Online Responsibility to Young Kids

By Alyson Klein — September 09, 2022 3 min read
Image of a child's hand on a keyboard.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Think preschool is too young to start teaching kids about digital citizenship? Consider this: Almost half of children have their own mobile device before they even set foot in a kindergarten classroom, according to a 2020 survey by the nonprofit Common Sense Media, which focuses on helping children use technology in safer and more meaningful ways.

“I think it’s really important, in particular, to address media balance at younger ages so that kids are set up with those habits early to take into the older grades,” said Kelly Mendoza, the vice-president of educational programs for Common Sense Media, which has created resources to introduce young children to digital literacy skills.

See Also

Kindergartner Dallas Webb tests herself in a reading lab on software designed to even out gaps in knowledge. Her school, Jere Whitson Elementary, in Cookeville, Tenn., is part of a district experimenting with new ways of using federal funds to teach reading and literacy.
Teaching young children digital citizenship skills can help prepare them to navigate the online world in safer, more meaningful ways now and when they are older.
Shawn Poynter for Education Week
Classroom Technology Want Kids to Be More Responsible Online? Start Early
Alyson Klein, September 7, 2022
7 min read

Here are three tips for teaching children in preschool and elementary school how to responsibly navigate digital spaces:

1. Talk to kids about the impact of too much screen time

Help young children understand that if they spend hours playing digital games or looking at videos online, they’ll lose out on fun things happening in the real world. Teachers can ask youngsters to talk about something they missed because they were too engrossed in their device. And they can help students reflect on how they feel physically after a lot of time online. Is their brain fuzzy? Does their head hurt? What about their eyes? Are they more antsy than usual?

Educators can also explain that if a parent, teacher, or friend wants to talk to them while they’re doing something online, they should pause, turn away from the device, and toward the real-life person. And teachers and parents can literally show them how to do that by simulating it.

The best thing adults can do? Put down their own phone. Students are watching how teachers and parents handle tech balance. So you have to practice what you preach.

2. Safety should be part of the conversation, but it doesn’t have to be scary

Children should understand that there’s usually a real person behind the chat messages and avatars they see in online spaces. They have to be careful in the digital world, just like they are in the real one. That means no sharing information—not even a favorite color—and definitely no giving out passwords. If kids find themselves in an unfamiliar or strange-looking corner of the internet, they should tell a parent or teacher.

Children need to hear that “some people don’t have their best interests at heart,” said Faith Rogow, an independent scholar and author of Media Literacy for Young Children: Teaching Beyond the Screen Time Debates, published this year. “If someone says something to them [online] that makes them upset or uncomfortable, they need to know that they have adults they can come to talk to about that.”

3. You don’t need digital tools to begin teaching digital literacy

It’s never too early to help children start thinking about the fact that there’s a person—with a viewpoint—behind every piece of print or online content they see. That can be done informally, Rogow said. For instance, when the class is walking down the hall, or in the neighborhood surrounding the school, point out a flyer and ask: “I wonder who made that?”

Most preschool and early elementary school teachers ask predictive questions before they read a book aloud in class, often by sharing the cover and asking kids to guess what the story is going to be about. It only takes one extra question to begin imparting a key skill kids will need on and offline, something along the lines of “can you tell me why you think that?’ or “how do you know?” Rogow said. Younger students will often respond with something “completely off the wall” but that doesn’t matter because “what it does is begin to get them in the habit of, ‘oh, I’m expected to give evidence for my answers.’”

And that expectation will get them started on the path to looking for the right evidence when they are trying to determine if an online source or statement is credible. Preschool and elementary school are not too early to begin building that skill.

A version of this article appeared in the September 21, 2022 edition of Education Week as 3 Tips for Teaching Online Responsibility To Young Kids

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
How to Leverage Virtual Learning: Preparing Students for the Future
Hear from an expert panel how best to leverage virtual learning in your district to achieve your goals.
Content provided by Class
English-Language Learners Webinar AI and English Learners: What Teachers Need to Know
Explore the role of AI in multilingual education and its potential limitations.
Education Webinar The K-12 Leader: Data and Insights Every Marketer Needs to Know
Which topics are capturing the attention of district and school leaders? Discover how to align your content with the topics your target audience cares about most. 

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Classroom Technology Monitoring or Blocking What Students Do Online Poses All Kinds of Problems
Schools need to do a better job examining the downsides of monitoring students online behavior and blocking internet content, says a report.
4 min read
Photo of high school student in classroom using tablet computers.
E+ / Getty
Classroom Technology Opinion How ‘Innovative’ Ed Tech Actually Reinforces Convention
Alfie Kohn warns that tech executives and other leaders aren't asking the important questions about teaching and learning.
Alfie Kohn
4 min read
Illustration of school children being helped out of a black box by their teacher. Inside the black box is their classroom full of education technology.
Robert Neubecker for Education Week
Classroom Technology Opinion Educators, Not Companies, Should Shape Educational AI
Educators, students, and families should shape learning-focused AI's values and capabilities, says a letter to the editor.
1 min read
Education Week opinion letters submissions
Gwen Keraval for Education Week
Classroom Technology Schools Want Guidance on AI Use in Classrooms. States Are Not Providing It, Report Says
The lack of guidance is coming at a time when the use of AI is expanding in education.
2 min read
Photo of student using laptop.
iStock / Getty Images Plus