Technology is everywhere. We text, tweet, shop, learn, read the news, play games and plan vacations online. For most of us, we live and breathe technology at work, at home and, increasingly, in schools.
Given how ubiquitous technology is, and with kids getting more tech-savvy than ever and new gadgets, social media platforms and apps being released every day, keeping children safe online is very important.
This week has been designated Digital Citizenship Week -- a perfect time for families to reflect on the role technology plays in their lives, start a conversation about digital safety and responsibility, and focus on building positive online habits.
When we think about the vast online world, we should look at it through the same lens that we look at everyday life. The ways people should act, protect themselves and treat others online are not so different from what they should do offline. We all strive to be good citizens in the real world. In the virtual world, we should all strive to practice good digital citizenship.
It starts with treating others as you want to be treated, being kind and looking out for others. The online world should be a place to share what we learn and love, stay in touch with friends and family, and a great platform to support our favorite causes.
And digital safety and responsibility should be a regular and ongoing part of family conversations -- with children learning from their parents and, often, parents learning from their children. But the dialogue doesn't need to be scary or preachy.
#ShareAwesome is a new national campaign that aims to address issues of online safety and digital citizenship in a fun and positive way while helping families create an open, evolving conversation about positive, safe decisions when using digital tools. The campaign features an online hub of expert information, tools, tips and resources; a contest that encourages students 13 to 17 years old to share photos and captions of awesome people, moments and decisions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #ShareAwesome for a chance to win technology and scholarship prizes; and a pledge to #ShareAwesome and inspire family and friends to be safer, smarter, more positive digital citizens.
Helping our children understand and maximize smarter, safer, more rewarding decisions online will go far in reducing concerns when it comes to their use of technology. Here are five ways we can start:
- Encourage children to share their thoughts and awesome people, moments and decisions online, but not their personal information (i.e., address, phone number).
- Help children understand the importance of following the rules of the site or app, establishing secure passwords and checking privacy settings often.
- Remind children that virtual friends are still strangers and never make plans to meet up offline.
- Urge children to tell a trusted adult if they feel in danger and block, delete or hide people who bring them down.
- Ensure children unplug or power down when walking or driving or enjoying time with others.
Technology is good and provides so many opportunities, and it is here to stay. It resonates with adults, children, tweens and teens, and it should do so in a way that is positive and promotes a happy, healthy lifestyle. When it comes to the digital world, it's important that families are talking online safety on a regular basis and that we all understand how to live our lives connected, stay safe and #ShareAwesome.
Otha Thornton is president of National PTA, a nonprofit association dedicated to being a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for public education. In September, National PTA launched #ShareAwesome, a national campaign powered by LifeLock, Inc. to celebrate positive use of digital and social media and empower families to make smart, safe decisions when using the Internet and mobile devices.