Digital Citizenship for Kids

with Emily Mulder of the Family Online Safety Institute

Nearly 60% of American teens have been the victims of cyberbullying, with offensive name-calling and false rumors being the most common forms of harassment.

Emily Mulder of the Family Online Safety Institute shares how children and teens can benefit from “digital citizenship” skills to make smart choices online and in life.

Posted on:

Dec 02, 2019

Hosted by: Ellee Pai Hong
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Pai Hong: American teenagers spend an average of more than seven hours a day on screen media. Sharing personal information online can put children and teens at risk for the misuse of personal data, cyberbullying, and exposure to harmful content. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Ellee Pai Hong. Joining me to discuss digital citizenship for children and teens is Emily Mulder. She is program director of the Family Online Safety Institute. Emily, thanks so much for coming in. Appreciate your time today.

Mulder: Thanks for having me.

Pai Hong: You hear that the hourly average -- seven hours a day -- it's an astounding amount of time. And during that time, there's a lot of opportunity to learn and really experience everything that the Internet has to offer, but there's so many dangers involved here, right? Mulder: Yeah, I think when we talk about media and screen use, we really have to think about how that's broken down. So, definitely, certain parents are going to look at the headlines around those kinds of statistics and imagine sort of a worst-case scenario where that's seven hours a day of really negative screen time. And we do have to think about the educational content, the ways that social media is being used by younger people to unify. There are a lot of positive things that come from it, as well. So while we definitely don't want to discount any of those risks and encourage parents to stay really vigilant, we also don't want to villainize it too much.

Pai Hong: Right, and which is where digital citizenship comes in, which is where parents come in in terms of teaching kids those skills, right? Mulder: Definitely. So, digital role modeling is one of the biggest things that we tell parents is important. How parents are interacting with other people online using their devices, behaving on social media, has a really profound impact on how kids take that behavior out into the world. So if they're witnessing their parents being positive, not overusing their tech to just sort of mindlessly scroll, and they're coming together with their families and their kids and doing positive things, their kids are then going to do the same thing.

Pai Hong: There was an interesting statistic. Two in three parents feel highly confident in their ability to keep track and manage their child's social-media use. Two thirds is a huge number. I have a 13-year-old. And she is on the Internet for school all the time. And I get very worried that she'll get distracted and click onto something else that I have no idea of, right? Mulder: Yeah, two thirds. Obviously a lot of that depends on the age of the children involved. So, that statistic is for a large range of kids. Obviously on the lower end of that, it's a lot easier to tune in to what they're doing, because less of them are likely to have a personal device that they use privately. It's probably more that they're using technology for school or with their families, so that high number is probably more for kids with more supervision. The number does tend to go down a bit in terms of confidence when it's parents of teens who are heavily on social media.

Pai Hong: And you really want parents and teenagers and all children to really think about digital citizenship, because your online reputation doesn't disappear when you graduate from high school, right?

Mulder: Definitely. Even 10 or 15 years ago, going online was a hobby or something recreational or something you just did for school. And what kids really understand now and parents understand now is that there is no divide between online and digital life. So digital citizenship is all about teaching kids that what they're doing online is going to impact their future, and acting responsibly and with good behavior and using social media for good instead of, you know, for the negative things we hear about like cyberbullying is really going to advance them in the world in a way that they want when they get older.

Pai Hong: And how much information they divulge online, as well, is something they really need to be careful of. I think I read a statistic that said 44% of teens have lied about their age to gain access to websites. So that's a danger, as well.

Mulder: Yeah, that definitely goes back to -- It would be impossible to expect parents to stay one step ahead of every thing that their child is doing online, necessarily. That's why we encourage -- You can't necessarily predict every new app that's going to come out, and every single thing your child is going to do either online or offline. But what you can do is make sure that you are staying in touch with them about what they are doing on devices all the time. So if they are doing something inappropriate, you know, you can come in and ask questions, ask them to show you what they're up to, try not to overreact and be too judgmental, but give yourself an opportunity to find out if you need to put a stop to content or apps or something that they are accessing that is not age-appropriate.

Pai Hong: No amount of privacy settings can replace parental supervision and discussion.

Mulder: Definitely, although we do definitely encourage parents to be very on top of checking their own privacy settings and knowing what their children are sharing.

Pai Hong: All right. On that note, thank you so much for joining us. Emily Mulder. Appreciate your time today.

Mulder: Thanks.

Pai Hong: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I'm Ellee Pai Hong.

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