How Do You Teach Your Child To Be A Responsible Digital Citizen?

by Guest Writer, Ruth Dearing

If only I had a penny for every time I’ve been asked this question! It’s a big question most parents have, and unfortunately, there is no simple answer. There are lots of factors to take into consideration that work together to help a child become a responsible digital citizen, and we’ll look at a few of these now.

What Is A Responsible Digital Citizen?

According to wikiHow, “Being a responsible digital citizen means using technology appropriately and operating online safely and knowledgeably” ( Clear as mud, right? What does “using technology appropriately” mean? And what’s involved in “operating online safely and knowledgeably”? No wonder parents are confused!

A more helpful explanation of responsible digital citizenship can be found at, where they explain that responsible digital citizenship means:

  • cultivating the social skills to take part in online community life in an ethical and respectful way
  • behaving lawfully
  • protecting your own as well as other people’s privacy
  • recognizing your rights and responsibilities when online, and
  • thinking about the impact of what you do online — on yourself, other people you know, and the wider online community

Let’s take a closer look at two of points above, the first and last ones in bold.

Getting Back To Basics

These two points come back to teaching your child basic social and emotional skills. Being a responsible digital citizen really isn’t that different to being a responsible citizen in the physical world. The technology used is simply a communication channel that often makes it easier to connect with people you might not otherwise see very often.

Being a responsible digital citizen is about human behavior and the underlying factors that influence that behavior. Technology on its own doesn’t demonstrate poor digital citizenship, it’s all in the way humans – both adults and children – choose to use the technology.

Three Tips To Teach Your Children To Be A Responsible Digital Citizen

Though there are numerous opportunities, we’ll delve further into just three ways you can help your children become responsible digital citizens based on the definitions above.

#1. Lead By Example

No doubt you’ve heard this before. Our children look to us as their parents to show them the way. They see what we do whether we like it or not. We can tell them what to do until we’re blue in the face, but our words will fall flat if we’re not leading the way by example.

If you’re in “Do as I say, not as I do” mode you’ll find it extremely difficult to make any positive progress with this challenge, or with any parenting challenge for that matter.

Show your children your social media activity so they can see first-hand what it means to be polite and respectful to other people online. Show them how you think about any possible impacts of your posts before you share them with others. And let them see examples of posts that are not polite or respectful.

If you don’t think your social media activities are a good example of responsible digital citizenship, step one is to change the way you use social media. Make the decision to use social media only for good purposes. Delete any posts you feel are not congruent with responsible digital citizenship and start fresh. Protecting your own online reputation can only be a good thing for you in any case!

#2. Teach Your Children The Online Golden Rule

The golden rule online is the same as the golden rule offline: treat other people how you wish to be treated. It seems amazing to me that the majority of children I speak with at schools who are aged between five and twelve years have never heard of the golden rule!

It’s never too early to discuss the golden rule with your children. If everyone just treated others how they wish to be treated the world would be a very different place – just imagine it! It starts with you and your children, one family at a time.

Share the concept with your children that it’s best to focus your energy on what you CAN control (how YOU treat other people), rather than on what you CAN’T control (how other people treat you).

#3. Treat People The Same Way Online As You Would In Person

For some reason, a lot of people say things online that they would never say offline. Maybe they gain courage because they’re hiding behind a screen. Maybe they think they’re anonymous so there won’t be any consequences for their actions. Or maybe they just lack empathy because they don’t see the face of the poor person on the receiving end of their comments.

The irony here is that if anything, it’s even more important to be polite and kind online than offline. Messages posted online form part of your digital footprint. They’re much more likely to be seen by more people online. A message posted online is more permanent and can affect a child’s chances of getting into their dream school, dream job or even dream relationship years down the track.

The other challenge with online communication is that the tone of a message can easily be misinterpreted. And of course tone and body language are far more important in communication than the words being used. It’s no wonder so many people are offended and upset by comments made on social media, even though it’s often not intended by the sender.

If you’d like your children to become responsible digital citizens it’s helpful to stop separating online and offline social skills. Those skills need to be ingrained in our children from a very early age. To get along socially, we need to be nice to other people. Cliché’s like “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!” are very helpful, regardless of whether the communication happens online or face-to-face.

The Key To Teaching Responsible Digital Citizenship

There’s so much more to responsible digital citizenship, we are really just scratching the surface here. If there was one key to teaching your child how to be a responsible digital citizen, I would say it’s about encouraging your children to be considerate of other people online based on their own INTRINSIC VALUES. In other words, your children should want to be responsible online because they know it’s the best way to be within themselves, rather than for fear of external punishment.

Teaching your children to be responsible digital citizens, and in fact teaching them to be safe online in general, comes down to effective communication and ongoing education. If you’re struggling for time and you’d like more help to guide your children safely online, you’ll find lots of help at

My sincere thanks to author and educator Ruth Dearing for contributing her knowledge, experience and helpful tips here.

About the Author:

Ruth Dearing is an international best-selling author of How To Keep Your Children Safe Online…And Put An End To Internet Addiction, public
speaker and mother of two from Australia. Her passion and expertise lies in “Peaceful Digital Parenting” – helping parents guide their children safely online.





2 Comments on “How Do You Teach Your Child To Be A Responsible Digital Citizen?”

  1. Great article, I believe we need to carefully balance the positive and negative aspects of the Internet and online access, while not simply excluding our children from a key and pervasive technology. Thus, teaching our children about online safety and how to stay safe on the internet is more important than simply exclusion, and teaching your children safe and responsible online behaviour is more important than simply blocking content. And, the key to raising children in the digital era is engagement and keeping an eye on their online use.

    • Wow yes! Right on and I couldn’t agree more, Nina! We have to teach our children to review their own content before viewing and be active thinkers when it comes to engaging online. We have to teach what responsible interactions look and sound like. That requires us to be in regular dialogue about online interactions and reflective about what works, what hurts, and when it does, how our child can assert clear boundaries. With COVID19, our children are engaging in media more than ever before so this becomes an essential part of their education at home and through school! Thanks for your thoughtful reflections, Nina!

Leave a Reply to NinaCancel reply

%d bloggers like this: