When I think of Digital Citizenship I think of a lesson we had at my Middle School. The lesson was on cyber bullying, and how your contribution to the internet has a lasting effect. Once you post something it is there forever. The lesson I was taught involved a teenage girl who was receiving mean emails and comments on a form of social media. There was a group of girls masked by a fake profile who were targeting her and calling her names. The teenage girl would read the messages and cry as she read each hurtful word. One day the girl received a message that threatened her life. The girls behind the profile said that they thought she deserved to die and wanted to harm her. This time she reported the incident to her mom and her mom, in turn, went to the Police. The Police were able to uncover the girls’ identities based on computer access and the girls were expelled from school as well as facing other consequences. This is most likely an exaggerated story, but the effect is real. Hundreds of students every day are facing violence over social media. This is a huge issue that many people ignore or do not notice…but it is something that can cause great pain, and consequences for all involved if it is not settled.
While bullying is a huge part of digital citizenship, I think that main lesson students should take away when learning this is that what you put online is like a tattoo. Students are wreckless, and act spontaneously. It seems that young students have a tendency to bully online, use foul language, and post inappropriate things that seem okay at the time, but can later cause a lot of issues for the student. Children do not realize that what they put online can affect their future and their present. If a school were to find that post, or comment, or mean text they have a right to expel or suspend, and if a future job or college finds anything strange online they may not accept you knowing that you have a past with unsteady behavior. One way we can help students with this lesson is by creating a Digital Citizenship toolkit. Young students learn best when handed something that they can interact with and understand. Mr. Badura is a K-8 educator who created the kit to ensure that students understood what kind of impact they are making when they go online.
There are many ways to prevent online bullying and help students better understand how to be a moral citizen online, but it is important for students to know that these things are going to happen. They may get involved with something online that they have hard time retreating from, or another student may target them and hurt them. We need to teach our students that online bullying and disrespect is the same as playground rules. If you get into a fight on the tire swing it has the same impact as if you are saying mean things to a student online. Just because you are behind a screen does not make it okay or unpunishable. So be safe, think critically, and make yourself a better person.