Making Sense of Digital Ethics and Citizenship for Kids in the 21st Century
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Thanks to globalization and the ownership of computing devices by many, the idea of digital ethics for kids, in particular, has become a matter of urgency in the 21st Century. The aim is to make children self-accountable and aware of the consequences arising from interactions they have 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 with its own challenges.
Notably are the encounters with online sexual predators, bullies, fake news, criminality, invasion of privacy, sharing of information without thought, intellectual property infringements, and of course, lack of empathy! Technology also exposes them to behavioral ills and multiple health risks!
What Digital Ethics and Citizenship Stand for
Digital ethics is all about self-awareness and accountability when interacting with technology tools such as the Internet, personal computers, and other digital forms. It is a behavioral etiquette designed to instill a sense of self-control so as not to offend others through 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 prepare young children with precautionary skills to effectively weave their way around the evolving digital landscape.
Parental Tips for Responsible Use of Technology 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 is a good thing for both productivity and domestic entertainment, it is also true technology ships with plenty of side effects, which need our urgent attention. We all need to stay informed about this fact. There are many arguments against technology but one is particularly loud. It is the case against electromagnetic energy (EMF) pollution emitted by the vast amount of electronic devices we have piled in our houses. The pollution contaminates 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 electromagnetic energy, 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 ‘benign’ side effects such as tech-neck, back pain, hand tingling, numbness, and eye-strain. Then there are serious health complications such as cancer, obesity, ADHD, and impaired mental health.
Too much screen time also denies children and adults sufficient 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. Digital Ethics and the Environment
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.
All in all,
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. Technology is Awash with Inappropriate Content
Cell phones and other digital forms are known to interfere with human social interactions because they cut down on the number of hours we communicate face-to-face.
Besides the social disruptions, extensive use of the internet exposes children to inappropriate content online. Through social platforms, children come face to face with cyber-bullying, stalking, and trolling.
Whereas they are at pains trying to deal with these ills, some of them are also actually learning to perpetuate the ills themselves. 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, busy swiping away, or simply lack the know-how.
4. Tech-Free Zones at Home is Great for 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 may include creating tech-free zones in these places:
- Family mealtimes
- The bedroom
- During house chores, such as doing dishes or laundry
- When children are out playing
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 both parents and children.
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, your family could develop a habit of watching movies and playing games together instead of leaving children to run riot on their own. Besides entertainment, you can help children 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 1 to 2 hours a day for children below 5 and depending on other conditions, 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.
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 possible. Those who can, now automate domestic chores and remotely activate or 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 course smart TV sets and laptops.
There is, however, a problem with this now that IoT devices require continuous connectivity to function correctly. This 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 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. This will compromise laptop data and leave it inaccessible.
Below are a few digital ethics tips to keep children and 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
- Minimize carelessness and ignorance when interacting with technology at home
7. The Right to Privacy
We often choose to understand online privacy as the protection of personal data from online snoops and criminals. Privacy, however, goes a step further, safeguarding what we know about others. We are also encouraged to cultivate a sense of cultural and religious awareness in the young generations, for them to respect other people’s lifestyles and beliefs.
At the end of the day, children should,
- Respect others’ needs for privacy
- Seek consent before sharing content online (images, videos, and conversations), that are not theirs
- Avoid noisy (voice call) inconveniences
- Desist from cyberbullying and spreading of hate content
On a very important note, children should also pay close attention to the kind of private information they willingly share online. Every time they install apps on their smartphones they become willing partners with app developers, especially when they accept the stipulated terms of service.
The following may go a long way to cement the concepts of digital ethics for kids at home:
- Develop awareness of the fair use of the internet, intellectual property, digital fingerprinting, and copyright
- Learn to cite the information sourced and used online
- Improve digital literacy by valuing credibility over fake news and misinformation
- Parents should empower themselves 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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