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Digital Citizenship: Initiating a Values Conversation with Students


Digital Citizenship: Initiating a Values Conversation with Students

"On the edge", Miika Silfverberg, https://www.flickr.com/photos/miikas/

When I was in 11th grade, I was cyber-bullied: almost fifteen years ago, in 2001, when The Internet was still referred to as the World Wide Web, MySpace was still two years away, and TheFacebook.com was still waiting for Mark Zuckerberg to graduate from high school.

But we did have AOL Instant Messenger, or AIM. Through this (now stone-age feeling) tool, friends and classmates would leave away messages up for hours on end, with angsty pop lyrics, teen-founded wisdom, and, invariably, jokes. Everyone would race their siblings home to hop online, where invariably fights came up over access to the one home computer. Those fights didn’t stop ; rather, they came alive, and more vicious, with the added protection of indifference that talking to a screen enabled. When you can’t see the hurt in the eyes of those you’re talking to, are they even hurt? Well, when a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, it most assuredly makes a sound.

Back in 2001, we were only at the precipice of what the internet and social media would become. Fast forward to 2016 and I can’t imagine what kids growing up now go through. If one person over a rudimentary two-way conversation tool could hurt me so badly, what must our kids be going through with the myriad of sites that abound today?

October is Bullying Awareness month, and I am thrilled that one week (October 16-22) is being further designated as Digital Citizenship week and will be dedicated to Digital Citizenship efforts. Digital Citizenship is defined as the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior while online. At Leadership, our model for approaching Digital Citizenship can be described as a preventative intervention.

Digital Citizenship Activity

Do you want to try this with the kids in your community? First, hold a conversation about values. What are the values that they identify with? Have the students discuss and identify the values that they come up, and encourage them to continue to refine them. For example, my personal values were originally excellence, authenticity, honesty, erudition, and kindness; when I revisited them this summer, I realized they were in need of refining and settled on curiosity, earnestness, transparency, erudition, and kindness. Notice that erudition and kindness stayed the same, but excellence, authenticity, and honesty all had to be tweaked (to, respectively, curiosity, earnestness, and transparency).

Facilitate a conversation around the values your students landed on. Find out why they picked each one. What about the value seemed core to who they are? Get from them all the reasons why the values are important. When you can connect a student’s previous, positive behavior to one of the values they share, be sure to point that out. Show them the different ways in which they are already living these values, and that the point of the exercise is to make sure that they are doing it all the time. Point out how you, as a teacher or parent, have used your own value pillars—great examples include on cover letters and resumes, in interviews and meetings, and while teaching or parenting. Ask them to identify how they might have seen your values come up before. For even greater impact, give them an example of when you didn’t live up to your values, and let them know the fall out, both internal and external, of compromising yourself.

Explain that these values should guide their behavior in life, which includes the lives we live online. Every post or comment or photo that they engage with should be in line with their values. For example, I might have a bad day in traffic, but am I posting about the jerk that cut me off? No, because it undermines my more important message of kindness. Have them apply a value filter to their current activity on social media—does it pass the value test? Encourage them to use these values to guide their online activities going forward. Does it pass all five values? No? Might want to rethink, retool, or just delete the post in question. Deleting is always the safest bet—and that goes for already existing posts as well.

At this point, bring the conversation back to values. Highlight what values you heard and what values you saw throughout the experience together. Close with a whip around asking each student to share 3 or more of their value pillars.

As one final step, ask them to consider finding an accountability partner for when they lose their way.

They’re still kids after all.


Thoughts about Digital Citizenship? Questions? Please let me know all about it in the comments below, or



“Digital Citizenship: Initiating a Values Conversation with Students”, The Leadership Program, Inc. 2016



By Ali

Ali Mercier, Marketing Content Manager at The Leadership Program, prides herself on her "move fast, break things" pace, eager to bring the world of Youth Development into the world of tomorrow. She insists that you find joy wherever you can in life, including (and sometimes especially) in your work. Ali earned her writing degree from the communications- and arts-focused Emerson College in Boston. Connect with her on Twitter @AliMercier.