How do You Model What it Means to be a Socially Responsible Digital Citizen?

“Surviving adolescence is no small matter; neither is surviving adolescents.
It’s a hard age to be and to teach.

The worst thing that ever happened to anyone happens everyday.”
Nancy Atwell

Young adolescents rotate the same three questions day in and day out: Who am I?  How do others view me? Where do I fit in?  It’s a difficult age to be, to teach and to parent.  As a middle school teacher, I witnessed young adolescents try on different personas each day as they were desperately trying to figure out the answers to these three questions.

Times have changed since I first started teaching in early 1990’s.  The landscape now includes digital media which makes our young adolescents on patrol 24/7. They are now circulating those same three questions online using multiple platforms to figure out the answers.  It is our civic responsibility to help them learn now to navigate through social media.  If we are not integrating it into our classrooms and schools, we are certainly responsible for some of the awful things that are happening all over the Internet.  Take for example the recent story about the “Smut List” circulating on Facebook.

Am I naive?  Could things have been different if social media had been integrated into the curriculum?  Would students have stopped and questioned how this list would have hurt and humiliated others on a global level? Would they have realized that the list included names that could have been their own?  Those names are someone’s daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin, neighbor and friend.

We need to constantly model what it means to be a digital citizen in the 21st century.  What digital footprint are we leaving behind by the comments, pictures and videos that we post?  Students need the opportunity to talk about this and figure it out as part of a classroom community.  Please take the time to think about your responsibility to positively influence how children and adolescents treat each other in today’s digital world.

I am committed to changing the climate of how we treat others.  I’m currently conducting research with one of my colleagues.  Our website, Gone Virtual has more information and we would welcome your involvement and participation in our research.




  • Thank you for the reminder that we all must be mindful, including myself, about how we use tools meant for building and cultivating relationships and collaboration rather than tearing down and destroying others. Interesting how I viewed this right after I had a conversation with a group of students who need to learn more about appropriate use of social media. Yet, I suppose, we all do. The question I need to ask myself is, “What’s my role?”

  • I found the last line of the article about the “smut list” to be chilling- kids who were once bullied at school are now being bullied 24/7. It has become inescapable. So how can we teach kids how to use social media responsibly? How can we bring it home to them the lasting effect of what they are doing? It makes me think of the whole idea of teaching empathy…. if they don’t have it, how can we help them make that connection?
    That Nancy Atwell quote is especially apt in this day and age- because not only is this the worst day, but now, everyone in the world might know about it. There is no silent embarrassment anymore- if kids make any mistake, everyone knows within minutes. When I think back to my childhood, and my embarrassing memories, I am so thankful that this world of social media was not around to capture them!

  • The quote by the student in the article says it all- “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re clearly part of the problem.” In my building, a K-4 school, we incorporate very little technology. There are a few teachers who use it quite a bit, but I can’t say anyone really teaches how to be a good friend on the computer. For most of our 3rd and 4th grade classes, they use their computer lab time for “Study Island,” which is basically test prep material. That sounds like something that students can do as part of morning work, centers, or homework. The computer lab time should be spent teaching students about how to appropriately use the internet! When else would we teach that?

  • Fabulous article and it is great to hear about a teacher with such a strong vision for the need for digital citizenship amongst our students. On our School website, we are helping to support parents to keep their children cybersafe and to keep them informed about the latest social media sites their children are using. Anyone can access it and our parents say it empowers them!

  • I believe it is very important to include technology in the classroom. The story about the “smut list” is very eye opening. Bullying does happen 24/7 but I do not think that administrators and teachers feel comfortable talking about this matter. As I try to contact schools and administrators about my project on cyberbullying many of them do not respond.

    Barb, I love how you discussed how technology is used for projects or learning subject matter in school, but what about teaching children how to use technology responsibly? Do children even really know what it means be a responsible digital citizen? Additionally, how do we go about teaching children to be responsible when so many internet sites are blocked in schools? This is such an important topic and I am so happy to have a teacher so passionate about this topic.

  • Maybe I have been around too long but when I heard about the existence of the “smut list” I was not overly surprised. Kids can be just as mean as adults – maybe more so at times – and perhaps this is a good example. As children struggle with their identities and insecurities they sometimes turn to propping themselves up by running others down. In the not too distant past, children used the power of rumor to compete with one another other. Once the flame of a rumor was kindled, it often took on a life of its own. A major difference between today and yesterday is the speed with which the “fire” can now spread. That fact alone only magnifies the potential damage that may result.
    Teaching the power of Social Media in the classroom means teaching both the good and bad of it. Though my next comments might seem like insensitive hyperbole, Social Networking is akin to nuclear energy in it’s potential power. As a result of its best uses, it is revolutionizing the global social, economic and political landscape every day. But it is also used for base and sinister purposes. In extreme cases, it can kill you or have devastating effects on your life that can last for years and years.
    As teachers, it is our job to teach the whole story – the good, the bad, and the ugly – so that our students can appreciate that they each have real moral and ethical responsibilities. Stretching the metaphor a bit further, somehow we must slap warning labels on all of this wonderful technology so that our students recognize the potential dangers that are inherent it it as well recognizing the inherent good.
    I took my first on-line course a little over a year ago. The subject was “The American Novel”. My fellow students were all working adults who expected to be studying American literature right from the start. We were all quite surprised that our first gradable task was to read, reflect, and respond to several articles and websites concerning “online etiquette” and “cyber-responsibility”. I am guessing that our virtual professor must have had previous negative experiences. Certainly he was reminding us that as adults we must model appropriate behavior, not just for our children or for our students but for anyone and everyone.

  • When I read the article on the “smut list”, one of the lines that spoke the most to me was, “If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem”. This really made an impact on me. I do not want to be part of the problem. I want to have a voice and be a supporter for adolescents who have voices that want to be heard. The question now becomes, what is a solution? I believe a solution must start with the joined collaboration of administrators, teachers, and parents who want to benefit the lives of their children…their futures. This is a growing epiodemic and we as a nation need to come together to make a change.
    In talking to the group of adolescents I have been working on my project with, they discussed how cyberbullying effects them and how they see it on an almost daily basis. What freigtened me was the “nonchalance” they had about the topic. They seemed that it was “normal” behavior and there isn’t anything to do about it. We need to teache adolescents that this is not normal behavior and a change can happen. Also, what seems odd is that this topic seems so new in the media..why is it only recently coming to the surface?

  • Makia Easterling

    In the classrooms today many students spend a great deal of time on the internet after school. As an educator and a student I consider myself to be a responsible digital citizen. Having the knowledge that the students I encounter with on a daily basis may indulge in inappropiate behavior to hurt or embarrass a person over the internet is why I feel online etiquette would be what each student/kid should be taught. Not having the knowledge or information as to how the victim may feel from what’s being broadcasted on the internet is not thought by many of “cyberbullies”.

  • The school I’m working in barely uses technology. We don’t have the resources to use technology on a regular basis so modeling the use of technology for my students is very hard.

    The students I teach have all had personal experiences with bullying, although they are young enough to not be involved in things like the “smut list.” Like Charlie said, I wasn’t surprised when I heard about the “smut list,” but it doesn’t make it acceptable at all. The fact that technology is everywhere and is so readily available to children today makes cyberbullying so much more prevalent. Its easier to write something about someone than to say it to their face. That seems to be what they people behind the “smut list” were thinking because they were protected by their blackberries or computers. This seems to be the case with all cyberbullying cases we hear about.

    This all being said, we as teachers and role models have to show our students/children that bullying to someone’s face is the same as bullying someone through the internet. If we use technology more in a way that is productive (e.g. for educational purposes, social networking, etc.) then hopefully students will see that you are just as responsible for what you say online as you are in person, if not moreso.

  • In our school we are constantly teaching behavioral expectations and reinforcing positive behavior. We explicitly teach our expectations for students in different settings (ie classroom vs. hallway). With a current rise in “cyber bullying” and the frequent use of the internet by students, it seems that we should incorporate social media into our behavioral expectations. I think that teachers tend to view social networking as something that is an out of school issue, however, the reality is that our students are constantly on the web. As a member of our behavior support team, I will advocate for our school to include explicit instruction of how to be responsible digital citizens.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s