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Understanding concepts: What is digital citizenship?

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We’re all plugged into devices throughout the day. It can be hard to balance screen time, wade through disinformation online and stay away from online negativity. It’s challenging for us as adults, so it’s certainly challenging for children and teens. That’s why teaching digital citizenship has to be part of our roles as educators. So what is digital citizenship? Digital citizenship refers to being a responsible member of the global digital community. Digital citizens make healthy decisions and positive contributions to the community. 

Why digital citizenship is important

Digital citizenship instruction should start in kindergarten and continue through grade 12. Just as math and language arts skills are taught in each grade level, it’s important for students to gain digital citizenship skills. They need to learn how to protect themselves online, respect others, have a healthy relationship with devices and think critically online. 

In 2021, 3,446 high school students participated in a study about online civic reasoning. “Two-thirds were unable to distinguish news stories from ads on a popular website’s homepage. More than half believed that an anonymously posted Facebook video, shot in Russia, provided ‘strong evidence’ of U.S. voter fraud.” The study found that the students weren’t using critical thinking to evaluate what they were viewing online.

That’s why it’s so critical to teach digital citizenship when children start school. They need practice with these skills to learn how to think critically. For those students who are already in high school, it’s not too late to have conversations and teach them steps for evaluating online information. 

The three core principles of digital citizenship and examples

Digital citizenship expert and author Mike Ribble wrote about the three principles of digital citizenship. These main categories cover nine elements that help you teach learners in any grade level about digital citizenship.


Learners need to be respectful about device use and follow internet laws. At the same time, schools need to respect learners by providing equitable access to devices and the internet. 

  • Digital access
  • Digital etiquette
  • Digital law


Even if your school provides 1:1 devices, learners may not be able to work online if they’re at home. An example of digital access is helping families in your school or district connect to free or low-cost internet services. Also, many families do have mobile phones with online access, so giving learners tools that are mobile-friendly will support equitable access to instruction.

Have you seen a learner take out their phone during class? Or have you had dinner with someone who kept looking at their phone? Another example of digital citizenship is knowing when it’s respectful to be on devices and when it’s not. Have learners role-play these types of scenarios in your class so they’ll understand what respectful digital behavior looks like.


Learners need to be educated about copyright; reliable sources; appropriate communication for email, texting or social media; and how to safely shop online. 

  • Digital literacy
  • Digital communication
  • Digital commerce


When learners collaborate on projects, they need to understand how to give credit to the authors of the articles they use. They also need to be aware of what type of images they can use in Google Slides or other presentations. Language arts educators cover giving credit to sources, but learners need to practice this in all classes. Educators should also teach learners about the public domain and Fair Use.

Learners don’t often use email since they text or send messages on social media apps, but they’ll also need to be able to write professional emails. Teach them how to compose an appropriate email with the right type of tone and word choices.


Learners need practice taking digital breaks, help with mental health issues and protection from cyberbullying. They also need strategies for safeguarding their personal information.

  • Digital health and wellness
  • Digital rights and responsibilities
  • Digital safety and security


Kids look at screens for learning, gaming, watching TV, playing on their phones and more. In fact, teens spend up to nine hours a day looking at screens, and some are addicted to screens. Give learners chances to reflect on their screen time and come up with alternatives to picking up a device.

Kids also need to understand what kind of personal information they should not share online. Whether it’s filling out a form on a gaming website or being asked personal questions on Discord or TikTok, they need to be taught how to guard their safety. Google offers games about protecting privacy, which is a fun way to start learners thinking about this topic.

Digital citizenship tools for teachers

Edtech tools that support digital citizenship make it easier to teach students while learning is happening. 

Gain visibility into student browsing

Hāpara Highlights is a Chrome browser monitoring tool that helps educators teach digital citizenship. With Highlights, educators can see what learners are doing in their Chrome browser. With this visibility, they can then use Highlights to:

  • Send an instant message to a learner with a positive note about their browsing decisions
  • Send an instant message to a learner who needs help getting back on track
  • Close a learner’s browser tab and provide them with a reason for closing it — This gives the learner clear digital citizenship instruction so they can make a more responsible choice next time.
  • Take a “Snap” of the learner’s screen to share with them during a digital citizenship conversation

Guide student browsing

There are many types of learners in a classroom, which means learners are on different digital citizenship journeys. Educators can use the guided browsing feature in Highlights to focus individual students, groups or the class on specific websites. They can also set up a time duration. 

For example, maybe it’s difficult for a group of learners to focus during the first few minutes of class after lunch. In that case, the teacher can set up a guided browsing session to focus them on only the website for the daily warm-up. With this feature, educators can also give learners more browsing independence when they’re ready. 

Additionally, when educators engage in digital citizenship conversations with the class, their learners start to realize which websites distract them. When they talk to their teacher about these sites, the teacher can set up a guided browsing session that filters out certain websites. 

Schedule student browsing 

Educators may want to schedule Highlights guided browsing sessions for the whole week in advance as they work on lesson plans. They can also create a guided browsing template to quickly reuse. This makes it easy for educators to support digital citizenship in the moment when learners need help focusing. 

Streamline substitute teacher days

When educators are away from the classroom for the day or for an IEP meeting, for example, they can still promote digital citizenship. By scheduling guided browsing sessions ahead of time, students will stay on track, which means learning time won’t be lost. 

Implement a web filter that supports digital citizenship

Content filters keep learners safe online, but only one has a digital citizenship feature. Deledao ActiveScan, presented by Hāpara allows students to request that a website be unblocked. When they submit the request to their teacher, they’ll include a reason for wanting the site unblocked. This gives students digital literacy practice in evaluating a website for learning. The teacher can then approve the request. Or they can provide a clear reason for not approving the request so the learner understands why it doesn’t support class activities. 

Digital citizenship curriculum for K-12

Educators can teach digital citizenship in the classroom with lessons or courses. For example, Common Sense Media offers ready-made lesson plans by grade level, covering different aspects of digital citizenship.

Common Sense Media lessons:

Hāpara offers full digital citizenship courses through Workspace. These ready-to-assign Workspaces cover K-12 activities for each individual grade level. 

Digital citizenship courses by Hāpara:

Each Workspace aligns with ISTE standard 1.2: Digital citizen: “Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.”

The grades 3-12 Workspaces also align with ISTE standard 1.3b: “Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.”

Learners can explore these digital citizenship courses online at any time and on any device, including a mobile phone.

Key takeaways

✔️  What is digital citizenship? It’s the concept of making responsible decisions and positive contributions to the digital community. 

✔️  Digital citizenship is important because learners need to gain critical thinking skills as they navigate digital environments.

✔️  Tools such as Hāpara Highlights make it easy to support digital citizenship day to day in the classroom.

✔️  K-12 lessons and courses will help your school make digital citizenship a priority in addition to academic standards.

Learn what to focus on when building a culture of digital citizenship, including conversation starters for learners and educators!

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