The literacy landscape has undergone a major change in the past few decades, since the advent of digital media. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) celebrates Literacy Day each year on 8 September to raise literacy awareness throughout the world. As the UNESCO puts it, “At record speed, digital technologies are fundamentally changing the way people live, work, learn and socialise everywhere. However, those who lack access to digital technologies and the knowledge, skills and competencies required to navigate them, can end up marginalised in increasingly digitally driven societies. (Digital) Literacy is one such essential skill.”
As the use of digital technologies has increased, so too have the crimes related to it. A survey of 38,000 children across 29 countries was conducted by DQ Institute in Singapore, in 2017. The findings stated that more than 50 per cent of 8 to 12-year-olds were exposed to at least one cyber-related threat such as technology addiction, cyber-bullying or identity theft.
According to Dr Yuhyun Park, founder of the #DQeverychild movement, “Just like we need a driving license before we can drive on the roads, children need digital education before they start using digital media and technology.” Digital Quotient (DQ) or digital intelligence is the sum of technical, mental and social competencies essential to digital life. India is one of the countries from all over the world that has pledged its support for the #DQeverychild movement in 2017. Parents in the 21st century have to take the onus to raise responsible digital citizens.
So, the question arises: How can we, as parents, empower our child with digital intelligence?
10 ways to digitally empower your child
- Balance online and offline identities: Your child should know where to draw the line between her online and offline identities and regulate her screen time accordingly. Screen time is the amount of time spent on digital devices and media for fun. It is important for parents to set clear ground rules about the screen time their child gets per day, and ensure follow through. In order to reinforce the rule, agree on a fun offline activity (for example, a board game night or a trip to your child’s favourite theme park).
- Protect their own and other’s online privacy: Sharing someone else’s personal information (like pictures, phone numbers or addresses) on the Internet without asking them is similar to stealing. Ask your child for her permission whenever you decide to share one of her photos on social media. Soon she will know that she too needs to do the same. In case your child has a social media account, show her how to change the privacy settings to ‘private’.
- Detect cyberthreats: Instances of malware infecting the computer and incidents of individuals being robbed of their money through their credit card information online are becoming increasingly common. Children need to understand the best practices to be followed and should also be introduced to suitable security tools for data protection. Parents can do this by showing the child how they conduct a transaction online, what anti-virus tools they use for data protection and so on.
- Research and filter information: The Internet presents our children with the significant challenge of learning how to access and synthesise massive amounts of information from all over the world. Using the right search keywords and appropriate search tools, checking for authenticity, and compiling the gathered information is a set of complex skills that should be introduced early on in your child’s life. As an exercise, give your child a topic to research online. Guide him through the steps till he gets the hang of it.
- Communicate effectively using digital tools: The digital world offers us a wide range of tools for communication meant for different audiences. Teaching children the difference between the language used while writing an email to a teacher as opposed to writing one to a peer is paramount. As an example, you can show them the difference between your social profile on Facebook as opposed to a professional social media site like LinkedIn.
- Detect and handle cyberbullying wisely: Decide on family rules against cyberbullying that specify appropriate and inappropriate behaviour (for example: absolutely no hurtful comments on message boards). Also, tell them the ways in which they can counter a cyberbullying attack, namely, ‘Don’t reply’, ‘Save the evidence’ and ‘Tell a trusted adult’. This advice enables children to respond instead of reacting to negative events in their lives.
- Build an online persona with integrity: Make sure you talk to your child about why it is healthy to have an online persona that matches his offline persona. If he admits to pretending to being different online, try talking to him to understand the reason for such behaviour. Figure out ways in which his online life can be made similar to his offline one.
- Develop positive digital footprints: Most companies check prospective candidates’ social media pages and other information about them in the public domain before they make a job offer. You leave your digital footprint on the websites you visit, the content you post and the emails you send. To avoid leaving a negative digital footprint on the Internet, teach your child these three basic things before she does anything online: (1) Pause before she posts, forwards or replies to something. (2) Consider whether the information is true, private or possibly hurtful. (3) Connect only when you are being kind and compassionate in your communication.
- Create strong passwords: Setting a weak password is like leaving the door to your home open – something you should never do! Teach your children how to create strong passwords for their online accounts (using uppercase and lowercase letters, adding symbols and numbers to the password, etc). Also, tell them the importance of never sharing their passwords with anyone except a trusted adult, using unique passwords for different sites, changing their passwords regularly and always logging out at the end of a session.
- Distinguish good from bad content: Children should be taught to exercise discretion and not believe everything they see online. Teach them these three keywords to inculcate critical thinking: (1) Doubt any info you read on the Internet. (2) Verify the info against two reliable sources. (3) Check whether the sources agree or disagree with the info. Also, warn them of the dangers of meeting any online friend in person. Ask them to tell you every time they make an online friend.
As parents, we are justified in fearing insidious online trends like the Blue Whale game, Momo challenge or any other inappropriate online content targeted at our children. However, we cannot ignore the importance of digital technology. Digital intelligence, as a key job skill, is here to stay. Restricting your child’s use of technology is not an option but neither is allowing her to use it without guidance. Empower your child with these key digital skills and ensure that she knows how to navigate this increasingly digital world.
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