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Making Sense of Digital Citizenship at Home in the 21st Century 

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Digital citizenship is a huge topic in the 21st Century because of the massive adoption of technology and the ubiquitous nature of digital devices in our homes. It is designed to empower us with a sense of digital etiquette to make our interactions with the digital ecosystem more responsible. Without it, we are bound to abuse technology especially now that it is integral to our public and private lives.

Today, we can hardly work, eat, socialize, and even sleep without some form of digital intrusion. The new reality has come with a lot of challenges, not to mention online abuses such as cyber criminality, fake news, invasion of privacy, sharing information without thought, intellectual property infringements, bullying, and of course, the increasing lack of empathy! Last and not least, technology now exposes us to multiple health-related risks!


What Digital Citizenship is

Digital citizenship refers to the responsible and active interaction with technology tools such as the Internet, personal computers, and all other digital forms, for societal and personal good. It is a kind of behavioral etiquette and quality control on how to use technology without offending others through device and data misuse. It is about how we communicate, and show kindness and empathy, for social, economic and political wellbeing.

Teachthought defines digital citizenship as

The quality of habits, actions, and consumption patterns that impact the ecology of digital content and communities.

And for the good of future generations, it is meant to prepare young children with better skills to weave their way around the evolving digital reality.


The Intrusion of Technology in Our Homes, & the Way Forward

There are a lot of positives in technology we can be proud of. These range from enhanced industrial productivity to real-time access to information. We now assemble automobiles in record time, and transfer money worldwide in a matter of seconds! These achievements only existed in our dreams 50 years ago.

While the above positives make sense, it is also true technology comes with tones of unwanted add-ons which deny us the time to interact with our private thoughts and family, and has taken away the beautiful peace and human voices that once graced our homes and environment. We no longer have private moments to reflect on our lives and communicate face to face with those we love. Even the free moments we get, are spent on computers, and swiping away on our smartphones! The proximity to these devices is also raising questions over their effects on our health.

It is this pervasiveness that has made governments, schools, and concerned bodies to ‘loudly’ discuss smarter ways to harness the digital landscape for responsible interactions. In what is now called digital citizenship, we are advised to use technology, more responsibly, to cut down on the negatives, and to protect young children from the known and unknown side-effects.

Sadly, though, there are no hard and fast rules on how to use technology wisely. To illustrate how challenging the question of technology is, Melinda Gates, says,

I spent my career at Microsoft trying to imagine what technology could do, and still I wasn’t prepared for smartphones and social media. Like many parents with children my kids’ age, I didn’t understand how they would transform the way my kids grew up — and the way I wanted to parent. I’m still trying to catch up.

Why Silicon Valley CEOs Raise Their Kids Tech Free

Tips for Responsible Use of Technology at Home

Responsible use of technology at home should be an option if we consider the following arguments:

digital citizenship at home
Family involvement and engagement is an important element of digital citizenship

1. Acknowledging the Side-Effects of Technology on Our Health

Acceptance is usually the first step we take in the quest to make changes in our lives. It is only after recognizing technology is not all roses that we stand a better chance to address the negativities that come with its extensive use. 

First is the acknowledgment that electromagnetic energy pollution (EMF) in the house actually exists, and is known to contaminate the air. Also true, the incorrect disposal of electronic hardware is known to deposit harmful chemicals in the environment.

Our body parts are exposed to electromagnetic energy, especially when we place cellular phones in our pockets, sleep with them under the pillow, and talk through them for extended hours. Repeated exposure to EMF can lead to ‘benign’ side effects such as tech-neck, back pain, hand tingling, numbness, eye-strain, and serious health complications such as cancer, obesity, ADHD, and impaired mental health.

Scientists have reported adverse health effects of using mobile phones including changes in brain activity, reaction times, and sleep patterns. More studies are underway to try to confirm these findings.

Health risks associated with mobile phones use

Too much screen time also denies children and adults sufficient time for physical activity, sleep and of course exposure to daytime natural light.


2. Technology is Awash with Inappropriate Content

Besides the exposure to electromagnetic energy, extensive use of cell phones and other technology forms can lead to inappropriate social behavior both online and offline.

First is the obvious fact we interact less as humans because we are busy on our smartphones. We do this even in the company of family, and friends. Family moments, in particular, demand that we communicate verbally, and seek each other out through eye-contact.

Besides the social disruptions, extensive use of the internet exposes our families to a lot of inappropriate content online. When young children are introduced early to online social platforms they easily become victims of cyber-bullying, stalking and trolling. Even worse, they may choose to perpetuate the behavior themselves or fail to demonstrate empathy.

Still, preteens and teens happily share their private lives, photos, and video clips with online strangers all in the name of wanting to appear relevant and to feel accepted by their peers. In what is known as Fear of Losing Out (FOMO) they now use online tools to pimp their body image to look ‘beautiful‘, ‘handsome‘ and ‘exotic‘. This is a roadmap to insecurity, low self-esteem and of course misuse of resources.

Parents are unaware of these ills most of the time because we are busy swiping away, or lack the information related to the abuses.


3. Creating Tech-Free Zones at Home is Great for Digital Citizenship

Excessive use of smartphones and other personal computers limits the time we spend communicating with family and friends. The routine affects the growing children the most yet they would use these moments to learn a lot from parents.

Instead, we need to implement deliberate strategies to keep technology in check. This includes creating tech-free zones at home where human interaction takes precedence over technology. The following areas should always remain tech-free as much as possible:

  • Family mealtimes; and this should be enforced even when we dine alone  
  • The bedroom
  • During house chores, such as doing dishes or laundry
  • When we take children out to play unless of course, we are taking a few snaps

Of course, it is next to impossible to achieve the above targets all the time, but somehow it has to start somewhere. The tech-free zones should be observed by both parents and children, without double-standards.

We are unhealthy
The use of technology during mealtimes with friends and family is rude and totally unfair

4. Try Out Inclusive Technology at Home

Family involvement and engagement is an important strategy to help children develop a responsible sense of digital citizenry. This involves keeping tabs on how and for what purpose everyone is using technology.

This goes a long way to neutralize unwanted extremes while using technology for productivity, and relevant entertainment.

For example, a family may develop a habit of watching movies and playing games together instead of leaving children to run riot on their own. Besides entertainment, parents can help children use technology creatively to accomplish educational assignments.   

Parents can also enforce a deliberate balance between domestic activities and the use of smartphones, computer games and movie watching. This involves apportioning specific hours for homework, gameplay, and of course prioritizing plenty of unstructured playtime for children.

Leisurely screen time should be limited to 1 to 2 hours a day for children below 5 and depending on the settings of your home, additional hours can be set aside when computing is done for educational reasons.

Playtime and the big picture of physical activity should be a compulsory item in the family menu. It is a positive detractor from unnecessary indulgence in technology, and something that children actually love doing.

There is nothing as fulfilling for children as physical wellness, in addition to other requirements such as a healthy diet, good environment, parental love, and sufficient sleep.


5. Informed Management of Devices and Data

It is only a few years now since smart devices and the larger picture of the Internet of Things (IoT) slowly found their way into our lives. Those who can, now automate domestic chores and remotely activate or deactivate various devices at home.

Typical IoT devices include smart speakers, smart cameras, fitness trackers, gaming consoles, smart bulbs, smart doors, smart fridges, mobile phones, interactive robots, smartwatches, and of course smart TV sets and laptops.

There is, however, a problem with this adoption now that IoT devices require daily wireless capabilities and the Internet to function correctly. These devices now interconnect and communicate by sending and receiving data.

The interconnectivity raises questions over data management, configuration and ultimately, security. While there is possible data compromise by hardware and software manufacturers, the real threat comes from cybercriminals who hack these devices for money and other reasons. An attack on any one of the devices with an insecure configuration is a gateway to other devices at home.

A typical scenario involves hacking the security camera to access video and audio feeds or hacking the TV set in order to install Ransomware on the laptop. This will compromise laptop data and leave it inaccessible.

Below are a few digital citizenry tips to keep our homes safe:

  • Boost our digital literacy in order to secure data and implement hack-proof security
  • Secure devices by use of up-to-date security software
  • Wisely store information on smartphones and computers
  • Limit office work at home
  • Watch out and block inappropriate content
  • Use content control hardware and software for the privacy and safety of children

6. Digital Citizenship Through Respect of Privacy

Most of the time, online privacy refers to how we protect our privacy from online snoops and criminals. Yet, online privacy should also involve playing it safe with what we know about others. We should not use or share data we do not own, without permission. We should also cultivate a sense of cultural and religious awareness so as not to abuse other people’s lifestyles and beliefs.

At the end of the day, we should,

  • Respect others’ needs for privacy the way we want them to respect ours
  • Seek consent before sharing content online (images, videos, and conversations, that are not ours)
  • Avoid voice call inconveniences to others in and outside the house
  • Desist from cyberbullying and spreading hate content

On a very important note, we should also pay close attention to the kind of private information we share online willingly. For example, every time we install apps on our smartphones and computers we become willing partners with app developers because we give them access to the data we exchange in their apps.  

Just as well, every time we log into the same apps with Facebook and Gmail accounts, we are willingly telling the two technology giants to have access to our activities in the same apps.


In Conclusion

We can also do the following for digital citizenry in order to cultivate responsible use of technology at home:

  • Develop awareness of the fair use of the internet, intellectual property, digital fingerprinting, and copyright.
  • Learn to cite the information we source and use online.
  • Improve our sense of digital literacy by valuing credibility over fake news and misinformation.
  • We should not empower ourselves with the right to information, and double standards when it comes to technology use at home. Children too should hold parents accountable for the misuse of technology.

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