For many parents, the idea that their kids need to be taught internet skills might seem downright funny: our youngest generations are some of the most tech-savvy of all, so much so that plenty of parents are now learning from their kids. Yet even if our children are well-versed in computers and the internet, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have room to expand that knowledge. In fact, many experts say that while most children have ample digital skills, many are lacking in digital LIFE skills.
Digital life skills can be best described as social skills that are directly related to one’s life online. A tech-savvy teenager with poor digital life skills is a scary thing, as they have the know-how to get around and see what the internet has to offer, but not the awareness necessary to stay safe and be a good digital citizen. Though there is no shortage of digital life skills that kids should be aware of, these are five of the most important.
The most obvious digital life skill, but one that seems sorely lacking on certain parts of the internet. The anonymity of the internet makes it much too easy to indulge in our worst behaviors, lashing out at strangers because we think that the screen offers us a layer of protection. In the reverse, that anonymity and disconnect between “real” and “digital” means that we’ll often forget that there’s an actual person behind the avatar. Whether online or face-to-face, a good digital citizen should show kindness, respect, and civility.
2. Critical Thinking
The internet is a fantastic resource for getting news and learning about new things, but internet users are also inundated with misinformation and bias on an everyday basis. Sometimes it comes accidentally, other times it’s an effort to promote a cause, and for others still, it’s simply an act of malice. Whatever the reasons behind it though, kids need to be able to think critically about the media they find online, evaluating it for authenticity, reliability, and bias. If nothing else, they should remember that just because they read it online doesn’t make it true (even if they WANT it to be).
3. Reputation Management
Something that every internet user needs to know is that anything and everything they post online can speak volumes about them and their characters. Given how disconnected the internet can seem from their daily lives, a lot of people don’t think about how the potential consequences of what they post online. But with more people online than ever before (including prospective employers and universities), people need to be more cautious about what they share online.
4. Privacy Protection
In the excitement of being online, some kids can be a bit oblivious to just how much personal information they are sharing. Maybe it’s just being too willing to include identifiable information on their social media profile, or maybe they’re a bit too trusting of the nice stranger they met in an online chat. Either way, it is important for kids to realize that there is some information that you just shouldn’t share online. Being cautious about what you post online isn’t just about protecting your reputation, it is also essential for avoiding online bullies, cybercriminals, and internet groomers.
5. Knowing When To Unplug
Sometimes the most important digital life skill is just knowing when to get offline. This is true for many reasons: for one, some of the greatest sources of frustration online come from seeing something you don’t like, getting angry, then acting without thinking about the consequences. It is never a good idea to post when angry, as it can easily lead to needless conflict and other actions you might regret once you calm down. The immediacy and “always-on” nature of the internet make it easy to get so wrapped up in what’s happening that we forget that walking away is even an option.
So even if your child is already well-versed in the internet and digital culture, it is important to make sure that they also have strong digital life skills. By taking the time to learn more about online etiquette and the signs of being a good digital citizen, kids can build better digital relationships, mitigate the internet’s many risk factors, and leave parents feeling a little more certain that their loved ones are safe online.