How can I teach my child to become a Digital Global Citizen?

By DQ Team  06/25/2018

Topics: Digital Citizen Identity, Parenting Tips, DQ TOP Rules, DQ Parents’Handbook

Every moment that we spend online, we’re in a space that compresses the distance between ourselves and people of different nationalities, ethnicities, and faiths. Yet, even now, only a little over half the world’s population is online. Over the next few years, as internet connectivity spreads, the plethora of cultures that we may encounter online increases in tandem.  
Since the turn of the millenium, the term ‘Global Citizen’ has gained traction – both in academia and in popular culture. According to the U.S. FUND for UNICEF, “a global citizen is someone who understands interconnectedness, respects and values diversity, has the ability to challenge injustice and takes action in personally meaningful ways.” With so many of our experiences now mediated online, what new norms, etiquettes, and behaviours should we come to expect from ourselves and others? How can we teach our children to be digital global citizens?
As a parent and caretaker, you play a fundamental role in helping your child foster their identity and their sense of belonging by imparting on them certain values: honesty, sincerity, and acceptance of others regardless of differences. As adults, we intuitively understand the value and necessity of these forms of respect, acceptance, and celebrations of diversity – but what does it mean to teach these to a 10-year-old child?
Earlier in this series of parenting tips, we’ve tried to offer some concrete tips for healthy digital habits. This month, because of the dynamic, broad, and still contested meaning of what a good digital citizen means, we have a little more room for play. In this post, we’re highlighting two values of being a digital global citizen: respect and authenticity. Nonetheless, and as you will see, there are many others that are worth highlighting as we navigate our digital lives.

Talk: Are you a global digital citizen?
Think about how easy it is to tweet at a favorite celebrity or author, or to briefly exchange words of support or comfort in a serendipitous online encounter via social media. At its most basic, digital citizenship is about being aware of and respecting our online interconnectedness. In our day to day lives, we teach children of the importance of conducting themselves well and treating others with respect. Many of these lessons are timeless; but online, where texts and memes easily divert our attention away from the people who post them, sometimes we find ourselves needing to nudge ourselves, and children, of the importance of being respectful to others online as well.
In your own family, your child’s understanding of their connectedness to others around the world differs based on their own digital lives – and your mediation of their online experiences. Find out if they understand what it means to be connected globally when they go online – if your child enjoys playing video games, for example, do they know that they may be strategising with other people of different nationalities?
If you’re at a lost of how to start this conversation, recall some experiences of your own! Perhaps you’ve come across a blogger who has shared an experience that touched you, or simply joined a community of international crochetters on Reddit. When was the last time that you felt thankful for (or even ashamed of) a digital community whose experiences you find familiar to your own? Share these experiences with your family!

Just like building empathy as a family, your own experiences are the best fodder for teaching the values of respect and sincerity to your children, particularly when you engage them in your own stories. Together with your child, you can leverage these experiences to identify and commit to online behaviours that are rooted in treating others with respect.
Online behaviours of a digital global citizen also include:


  • Being respectful and kind in all online interactions
  • Posting comments or opinions respectfully
  • Seeking permission from others before posting information about them
  • Using kind (and not demeaning) language online
  • Not participating in bullying and/or cyberbullying, speaking up against those that do, and supporting those who have been affected by it

Obey: Be authentic online!
For many of us, childhood means having the leisure to be playful: both literally and figuratively. At a stage where we’re experimenting with self-expression1, ‘identity is something we do, rather than simply something we are’2. For children and adolescents, then, the ability to develop multiple online personas – one’s online social identity – is an informative, fulfilling process of identity formation3. Thus, when they go online, your child may be expressing different aspects of their personality through their online personas.  
As caretakers, we juggle the dual impulses of respecting this capacity for exploration and the protective instinct to shield children from the potential developmental harm that comes from the narcissism of social media or internet addiction4. What’s important here, then, is to keep an eye on differentiating play and ill intent. That is, do they have different online personas because they:


  • Want to remain anonymous in order to share thoughts and feelings that they may not be willing to share in real life?
  • Want to deceive others online?

Encourage your child to develop sincere online personas; that is, to exhibit characteristics and values that they do offline – rather than chase the gratification of getting more ‘likes’ or ‘followers’. If your child feels that he/she feels more comfortable online, keep an open mind and talk to them about their online experiences. Often, when children find and participate in online social communities, they are able to forge genuine relationships that add to their own skills, cultural capital, and confidence5. If they feel more comfortable in their online personas, it can help to ask if there are actions that you can take together as a family to develop this persona offline as well.
The truth is, there is no hard and fast rule that we can follow for maintaining authenticity – and this applies even to adults! Interestingly, researchers have found that children tend to present their authentic selves online – and it is adults who more commonly hide their identities and create multiple personas6. If you think this applies to you, perhaps take some time and reflect on how you can present a more authentic version of yourself online – and then share that reflection with your child!  
Play: Read about a hero with your child!
Being respectful and authentic online aren’t the only two values that are worth developing as digital global citizens. There is a myriad of other values and practices that are worth developing that help us understand our dreams, goals, and aspirations as global citizens: compassion, creativity, curiosity, wisdom, and integrity – just to name a few.  
For this month, keep an eye out for these values as they present themselves in the books that you read with your child, the movies that your family watches, or the observations that you make while sharing the screen (be it television or on your devices) with your child.
What other types of characteristics bear the hallmark of a digital global citizen? Take the Digital Citizen Pledge in our Parent’s Handbook, or even make your own, and come back to it time and again to commit to these values that you and your children admire in your heroes!


This is the fifth in a series of 9 posts that the DQ Institute is publishing for parents and caretakers to help you get started on inculcating healthy and responsible digital habits for you and your family. If you’ve found these tips helpful, you can find more in our previous post on confronting cyberbullying as a family. Otherwise, check back next month for our next post on managing your online reputation!
1. Buckingham, D. (2007). Introducing Identity. In D. Buckingham, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation series on digital media and learning: Youth, identity and digital media (pp. 1-24). Cambridge: MIT Press.
2. Ibid.
3. Stern, S. (2007) Producing sites, exploring identities: Youth online authorship. In D. Buckingham, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation series on digital media and learning: Youth, identity and digital media (pp. 95-118). Cambridge: MIT Press; Williams, A. L., & Merten, M. J. (2008). A review of online social networking profiles by adolescents: Implications for future research and intervention. Adolescence, 43(170), 253.
4. Israelashvili, M., Kim, T., & Bukobza, G. (2012). Adolescents’ over-use of the cyber world–Internet addiction or identity exploration?. Journal of Adolescence, 35(2), 417-424.
5. Vickery, J. R., & Watkins, S. C. (2017). Worried about the Wrong Things: Youth, Risk, and Opportunity in the Digital World. The MIT Press.
6. Hou, W., Komlodi, A., Lutters, W., Hercegfi, K., Preece, J. J., & Druin, A. J. (2015). Supporting children’s online identity in international communities. Behaviour & Information Technology, 34(4), 375-391.