4 Reasons Digital Literacy Skills Are Important for Kids

Discover why digital literacy is of utmost importance

young man on the computer

Technology is everywhere. From smartphones and apps to laptops and social media, technology has become a permanent fixture in kids' lives. But in the quest to equip them with the latest gadgets and gizmos, are parents and educators really showing them how to use these devices effectively and responsibly?

The growing number of cyberbullying incidents, combined with public shaming, sexting and a variety of other online perils, suggests that the answer is no. Instead, technology use has at times become a free-for-all online. Kids roast one another, make inappropriate posts and sometimes show a lack of judgment.

In fact, according to a Norton Online Family Report, nearly 62% of children worldwide have had a negative experience online. Meanwhile, four out of ten of those experiences have involved something serious like cyberbullying or being contacted by a stranger.

Seventy-four percent of kids with social media accounts have experienced something unpleasant or mean.

Yet, despite these facts, a quarter of teens report that their parents have no idea what they do online. This should never be the case.

Instead, parents need to view technology and the Internet as a digital playground or highway. And just as you would not let your kids go to the playground or drive a car without some ground rules, the same is true for technology and the Internet. Parents need to be sure that kids are using these tools safely and responsibly.

Why Digital Literacy Is Important

Most schools now have BYOD (bring your own device) policies. So the need for digital literacy has become increasingly important. No longer is technology use limited to the home, but has quickly morphed into an always-connected mindset. 

What's more, kids will be using technology, the Internet and social media in college and later in their careers. For this reason, kids need to become digitally literate. Here are the reasons why.

Making Digital Footprints Is Easy

With every post to Instagram, every Tweet and every blog post, kids are leaving behind a digital footprint. These marks they leave online are easy to find by teachers, coaches, college admissions offices, and future employers. 

But are your kids' footprints what you hope they would be? The only way to make sure they are leaving good footprints and not ones they will regret later is by teaching them how to use social media and other online platforms to create a positive online reputation.

Curating Content Is a Life Skill

One of the most important aspects of digital literacy is the ability to curate content. In other words, what pieces of content are your kids posting, sharing, and interacting with online? Every article, photo, and video that they post, share, or comment on says something about who they are.

Be sure they learn how to manage and curate content. Additionally, kids need to be able to distinguish between quality content and questionable content.

Teach the importance of verifying information before they assume it is true or factual. This is especially important before they post or share it.

Understanding Technology Leads to Success

Knowing the full potential of technology breeds success. Anytime kids get a new piece of technology, work with them to learn all the ins and outs of the device. For most kids, there is a big difference between what they do with their smartphone or their computer and what they could be doing.

Teach your kids how to use technology in ways that will benefit them in school and in life. Knowing how to explore technology and experiment with what it can do makes it easier to embrace the next piece of technology that they come in touch with. In the end, technology becomes something fun to learn about and not something frustrating because it is new or unfamiliar.

Recognizing Technology Has Staying Power

Technology is not going away. There are some parents that think the best way to deal with the influx of technology is to prohibit their kids from using it. Instead of becoming familiar with the things available to their kids and learning alongside them, they would prefer to stick their heads in the sand and pretend it doesn't exist.

But that isn't the real world and it is not helpful to your child. The best time to teach your child how to use technology, especially social media and other online platforms, is while they are still under your roof and you can guide them as they learn the ins and the outs. What's more, there are some surprising benefits to social media use.

What You Can Do

Fortunately, there are things you can do to help your kids develop digital literacy skills. Here are some practical things you can to do teach them how to be more responsible with technology.

Allow Them to Experiment

As much as technology might be scary or confusing for you as a parent, you need to allow your kids to experiment with using it, especially while they are under your supervision.

Expecting your children to know how to manage social media as a college student is unrealistic if they have never used it before. Consequently, be sure you slowly introduce your kids to the various tools available to them online.

Teach Them to Be Responsible

Show them how to use technology responsibly. Digital etiquette is one of the most important skills you can teach your kids. Make sure they not only understand your online rules and safety guidelines but that they also know that they need to think about each and every stroke of the keyboard.

For instance, even liking a post where someone is being bullied communicates to the others that your child condones the treatment and is in agreement with the bully. In general, your kids should treat others the way they want to be treated. What's more, their posts and photos should be positive and appropriate.

Talk to Them About Respect

Be sure they know their rights (and respect the rights of others) online. Kids have a right to feel safe online. If someone is cyberbullying them or harassing them in some way, they should tell a trusted adult. As a result, equip your kids with some general guidelines on how to handle cyberbullying should they experience it.

Likewise, they should treat others with respect online. Aside from not cyberbullying, one way they can do this is to respect everyone's right to privacy. For instance, they should not share information, photos or videos about another person without their permission.

They also need to respect the work other people share online. This means that downloading music, videos, papers, books, and so on without permission is not acceptable. It is also unacceptable to hack into other people's social media accounts, impersonate others online or send spam.

Teach Them How to Stay Safe

Never allow your kids to be online without first talking about online safety. Set some general guidelines to protect your kids from cyberbullying and discuss the ins and outs of social media. It's also important to follow the age guidelines of online accounts you want to establish. There is a reason why kids have to be 13 before they can have an Instagram account.

Do not bend the rules. You are not setting a good example for your kids when you do. Instead, adhere to the established rules and then create some of your own.

Hone Your Digital Parenting Skills

Before you can instruct your kids on the appropriate use of technology, the Internet and social media, take a close look at your own behaviors as well as your digital parenting skills.

How much time do you spend online? Do you make rude comments online or share off-color jokes? Understand that your use of technology influences your kids' behavior. If you want your kids to follow a certain standard, be sure you are following that standard as well.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, the goal of teaching digital citizenship is to empower kids with the skills and the knowledge they need to navigate the world today. They not only need to understand that they have a responsibility to conduct themselves appropriately online, but they also need to understand how they can use technology to benefit them and those around them. Technology is not just a tool for posting pictures and viewing videos but can be used to create a presence that helps them get into college or find a job.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cision PR Newswire. Norton Online Family Report Identifies Issues of "Cyberbaiting" and Overspending. 2011.

  2. Business Wire. 60% of Teens Rarely or Never Talk to Their Parents About Appropriate Online Behavior, Survey Finds. 2019.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.