Parents have been struggling for a decade or more to “control” what their children see and do online: Do I “allow” connections with others? How do I keep my children from being “exposed” to online bullying or sexual references? How can I provide context if I don’t know what they are seeing?

Phillip Potenziano is superintendent of the Brunswick School Department.

It’s not easy. The digital world is complicated and ubiquitous. Current stats show that children under age 8 spend an average of nearly 2.5 hours per day with screen media. Tweens (ages 9-12) spend an average of 4.75 hours, and for teens (ages 13-18), that increases to 7+ hours – and that doesn’t include online time spent on schoolwork.

The fact is adults cannot monitor and control everything children see, read or discuss online with their peers. But we can educate them to be good digital citizens.

According to the International Society for Technology in Education, a community of global educators who believe in the power of technology, we have to help young people get beyond the idea that digital citizenship is only about being safe. Rather, the society defines digital citizenship as “the responsible and respectful use of digital technology,” and it involves being “respectful of people with differing viewpoints and engaging positively, critically, and competently in the digital environment.”

There are many articles and resources for this increasingly important topic. One organization is Common Sense Media. I’ve outlined a few ideas that I think are a great start.

Digital citizenship lessons for K-5 pupils


At this age, children begin to be able to think beyond themselves. Three good lessons to start with are:

1. Something that is really important for K-5 is to connect things that happen online to the real world. This age group needs more concrete examples. Such as, if you wouldn’t say it to a friend on the playground, you don’t type it on technology devices.

2. Keep private information private. Private Information you share not only has effects on you but also on your family and friends.

3. It’s an old rule but a good one: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Kids can start to grasp that this is not just with personal interactions, but with conversations and interactions online.

Safe and responsible online behavior for grades 6-8

This is a good time to address the fact that the internet is forever.


1. Think about the future: Everything you put on the internet stays on the internet. Just because you deleted it, it doesn’t mean it’s truly gone.

2. Be mindful of your “brand.” Because most kids are brand conscious, I think this is a great way to help them conceptualize that all internet interactions have the power to either help or hurt their brand or their reputation. What would XX (their favorite brand) say about this? Would they think it was the right thing to put online?

3. Be yourself. Embrace who you are, and don’t let others’ (often fake) representation of their looks, their lives and their popularity make you feel less worthy. It’s a hard lesson, but it’s important to keep saying it.

Tips for grades 9-12

The International Society for Technology in Education encourages high-schoolers to think of the “do’s,” not just the “don’ts.” Here is their list of “do’s” for this age group:

1. Inclusive: I am open to hearing and respectfully recognizing multiple viewpoints, and I engage with others online with respect and empathy. I avoid judgmental language and responses.


2. Informed. I know how to vet sources, to recognize the difference between fact and opinion. At this age, they should be learning how to differentiate between credible news and research sites versus satire, biased commentary and other unsupported information.

3. Engaged: I use technology and digital channels for civic engagement, to solve problems and to be a force for good in both physical and virtual communities. I use online channels to uplift, encourage, challenge and support my peers and my community.

4. Balanced: I make informed decisions about how to prioritize my time and activities online and off. I know how to strike a good balance when it comes to digital connectivity and real human interaction.

5. Alert: I am aware of my online actions and know how to be safe and create safe spaces for others online. I look out for others’ well-being.

You cannot control everything your children say or hear or see online, but you can help them navigate it with tolerance, skepticism, and balance.

Comments are not available on this story.