Making Sense of Digital Ethics and Citizenship for Kids in the 21st Century

child with technology                                                            

The concept of digital ethics for kids has gained popularity in the 21st century due to the proliferation of technology devices and the manner in which they are consumed.

The aim is to make children more responsible and accountable for consequences that arise from their interactions with the digital ecosystem.

In the absence of digital ethics, netizen children are bound to abuse technology now that it is integral to all aspects of their lives. They now work, eat, socialize, and even sleep with some form of digital intrusion, and this comes at a price.

Notable here are the encounters they can have with online sexual predators, cybercriminals, bullies, fake news, invasion of privacy, sharing of information without much thought, intellectual property infringements, and apathy!

Besides, technology also exposes them to multiple health risks!

Redefining digital ethics and citizenship

Digital ethics stands for user awareness and accountability while interacting with technology tools such as the internet, personal computers, and other digital forms.

It is a technology etiquette designed to instill a sense of user self-control to avoid nuisances and offenses that come with device and data abuse.

The same can be said about digital citizenship. Teachthought defines it 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, digital ethics is meant to equip young children with relevant preparedness, ready for the evolving digital landscape.

Parental tips for digital ethics at home

Digital ethics for kids or better still, responsible use of technology at home should be an option if we consider the following arguments:

1. The side-effects of technology on child health and wellbeing

While it is true technology has changed productivity and entertainment for the better, it is also true technology ships with plenty of unpleasantries, which need urgent attention.

First is the low-level non-ionizing radiation Electromagnetic fields (EMF) from Wi-Fi, microwaves, cellphones, computers, electric installations – meters, cables, sockets, etc.

This and other pollution contaminate the air and is increasing as we purchase even more devices!

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

Children, just like adults, are exposed to EMF when they place cellular phones in pockets, sleep with them under the pillow, and talk through them for extended hours.

Repeated exposure to EMF can lead to health complications such as cancerobesityADHD, and impaired mental health.

Then there are the ‘silent’ side effects such as tech-neck, back pain, hand tingling, numbness, and eye-strain.

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

At the same time, family interaction is hit hard when everyone at home uses technology in all the wrong places such as the dining table, and the bedroom.

2. The environment and digital ethics

Besides contaminating the air, the haphazard disposal of electronic hardware affects the environment in so many ways. Improper disposal of electronic hardware is known to damage the climate, water, land, and air.

Electronic equipment do not dissolve in the environment as quickly and the pile-up over the years degrades the environment.

higher percentage of environmental problems is a direct result of technology mismanagement by innovators and users. A small portion of environmental issues relate to economic, social and natural changes resulting from human activities. Environmental pollution, ecological systems disturbances, depletion of natural resources and climatic changes resulting from global warming are technological influenced. Technology is significant in development and increased productivity to satisfy human need, but uncontrolled technology impacts environment negatively.

Essays, UK. (November 2018). Technology has bad effects on environment.

Responsible digital citizenship for children starts with developing awareness and creating working solutions for the safe disposal of electronic hardware.

3. Prevalence of inappropriate content online

Cell phones and other digital forms greatly interfere with family and social interactions because they cut down on the number of hours we communicate face-to-face.

The addictive technology demands that we are glued to our smartphones for the better part of the day.

Besides the social disruptions, extensive indulgence with the internet exposes children to inappropriate content online, where they also have to deal with cyber-bullying, stalking, and trolling.

Whereas many children are at pains trying to deal with these ills, some of them actually perpetuate the same ills to torment their peers.

Preteens and teens also happily share their private lives, photos, and video clips with online strangers all in the name of wanting to appear relevant and accepted by peers.

In what is known as Fear of Losing Out (FOMO) they now use online tools to pimp their images 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 they are busy at work, swiping away, or simply lack the know-how.

4. Tech-free zones at home and digital citizenship for kids

Excessive use of smartphones and other personal computers interferes with the time parents have to spend communicating with children.

Deliberate strategies are in order if we are to keep technology in check. This includes creating tech-free zones in the places mentioned below:

  • Mealtimes 
  • The bedroom
  • Amidst house chores such as doing dishes or laundry
  • During child playtime

Of course, it is next to impossible to achieve the set targets all the time, but somehow it has to start somewhere. The tech-free zones should be observed by parents and children alike.

5. Inclusive technology at home

Family engagement is important in helping children become responsible digital netizens. This involves keeping tabs on how and for what purpose everyone is using technology.

For one, every family can develop a habit of watching movies and playing games together instead of leaving children to run riot on their own.

Besides entertainment, children can be helped to use technology creatively to accomplish educational assignments.   

Parents can also enforce a deliberate balance between domestic chores and the use of smartphones, computer games, and movie watching.

Apportioning specific hours for homework, gameplay, and prioritizing plenty of unstructured playtime for children cultivates a sense of order at home.

Leisurely screen time should be limited to 2 hours a day for children below 5 and keeping other factors constant, additional hours can be set aside when computing is done for educational reasons.

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

6. Device/data management & security

It is only a few years now since smart devices and the larger picture of the Internet of Things (IoT) became ubiquitous.

Those who can, now automate domestic chores and remotely activate/deactivate 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 coursesmart TV sets and laptops.

There is, however, a problem with this setup now that IoT devices require internet connectivity to function correctly.

Questions over data management, configuration, and ultimately, security top the list. While there is possible data compromise by hardware and software manufacturers, the real threat comes from cybercriminals who hack them for ransomware and other reasons.

An attack on one device with an insecure configuration is a sure 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.

Below are a few digital ethics tips to keep children and homes safe cyber criminality:

  • Boost digital literacy in order to secure data and implement hack-proof security
  • Secure devices by using up-to-date security software
  • Securely store information on smartphones and computers
  • Limit office work at home
  • Use content control hardware and software for the privacy and safety of children
  • Minimize carelessness and ignorance when interacting with technology at home

7. The right to privacy

For years, we have understood online privacy as the protection of personal data from online snoops and criminals.

True privacy, however, goes a step further. It involves safeguarding what we know about others too.

Children should,

  • respect others’ needs for privacy
  • seek consent before sharing third-party content such as images, videos, and conversations
  • avoid noisy (voice call) inconveniences
  • desist from cyberbullying and indulging in hate content
  • respect and tolerate other religious and cultural opinions

Children should also pay close attention to the kind of information they share willingly online. Every time they install apps on their smartphones they become willing partners with app developers when they accept Terms of service that they never read.

The last word

The following can go a long way to cement the concepts of digital ethics for children at home:

  • Develop awareness about fair use of the internet, intellectual property, digital fingerprinting, and copyright
  • Learn to cite information sourced and used online
  • Improve digital literacy by valuing credibility over fake news and misinformation
  • Children too should hold parents accountable for the misuse of technology.

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