Classroom Technology

3 Tips for Teaching Online Responsibility to Young Kids

By Alyson Klein — September 09, 2022 3 min read
Image of a child's hand on a keyboard.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Think preschool is too young to start teaching kids about digital citizenship? Consider this: Almost half of children have their own mobile device before they even set foot in a kindergarten classroom, according to a 2020 survey by the nonprofit Common Sense Media, which focuses on helping children use technology in safer and more meaningful ways.

“I think it’s really important, in particular, to address media balance at younger ages so that kids are set up with those habits early to take into the older grades,” said Kelly Mendoza, the vice-president of educational programs for Common Sense Media, which has created resources to introduce young children to digital literacy skills.

See Also

Kindergartner Dallas Webb tests herself in a reading lab on software designed to even out gaps in knowledge. Her school, Jere Whitson Elementary, in Cookeville, Tenn., is part of a district experimenting with new ways of using federal funds to teach reading and literacy.
Teaching young children digital citizenship skills can help prepare them to navigate the online world in safer, more meaningful ways now and when they are older.
Shawn Poynter for Education Week
Classroom Technology Want Kids to Be More Responsible Online? Start Early
Alyson Klein, September 7, 2022
7 min read

Here are three tips for teaching children in preschool and elementary school how to responsibly navigate digital spaces:

1. Talk to kids about the impact of too much screen time

Help young children understand that if they spend hours playing digital games or looking at videos online, they’ll lose out on fun things happening in the real world. Teachers can ask youngsters to talk about something they missed because they were too engrossed in their device. And they can help students reflect on how they feel physically after a lot of time online. Is their brain fuzzy? Does their head hurt? What about their eyes? Are they more antsy than usual?

Educators can also explain that if a parent, teacher, or friend wants to talk to them while they’re doing something online, they should pause, turn away from the device, and toward the real-life person. And teachers and parents can literally show them how to do that by simulating it.

The best thing adults can do? Put down their own phone. Students are watching how teachers and parents handle tech balance. So you have to practice what you preach.

2. Safety should be part of the conversation, but it doesn’t have to be scary

Children should understand that there’s usually a real person behind the chat messages and avatars they see in online spaces. They have to be careful in the digital world, just like they are in the real one. That means no sharing information—not even a favorite color—and definitely no giving out passwords. If kids find themselves in an unfamiliar or strange-looking corner of the internet, they should tell a parent or teacher.

Children need to hear that “some people don’t have their best interests at heart,” said Faith Rogow, an independent scholar and author of Media Literacy for Young Children: Teaching Beyond the Screen Time Debates, published this year. “If someone says something to them [online] that makes them upset or uncomfortable, they need to know that they have adults they can come to talk to about that.”

3. You don’t need digital tools to begin teaching digital literacy

It’s never too early to help children start thinking about the fact that there’s a person—with a viewpoint—behind every piece of print or online content they see. That can be done informally, Rogow said. For instance, when the class is walking down the hall, or in the neighborhood surrounding the school, point out a flyer and ask: “I wonder who made that?”

Most preschool and early elementary school teachers ask predictive questions before they read a book aloud in class, often by sharing the cover and asking kids to guess what the story is going to be about. It only takes one extra question to begin imparting a key skill kids will need on and offline, something along the lines of “can you tell me why you think that?’ or “how do you know?” Rogow said. Younger students will often respond with something “completely off the wall” but that doesn’t matter because “what it does is begin to get them in the habit of, ‘oh, I’m expected to give evidence for my answers.’”

And that expectation will get them started on the path to looking for the right evidence when they are trying to determine if an online source or statement is credible. Preschool and elementary school are not too early to begin building that skill.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Early Childhood Webinar
How the Science of Reading Elevates Our Early Learners to Success
From the creators of ABCmouse, learn how a solution grounded in the science of reading can prepare our youngest learners for kindergarten.
Content provided by Age of Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
English-Language Learners Webinar
Classroom Strategies for Building EL Students’ Confidence and Success
Fueling success for EL students who are learning new concepts while navigating an unfamiliar language. Join the national discussion of strategies and Q&A.
Content provided by Project Lead The Way
Future of Work Live Online Discussion Seat at the Table: Understanding the Critical Link Between Student Mental Health and the Future of Work
In recent months, there’s been a rallying cry against the teaching of social-emotional skills. Discover why students need these skills now more than ever.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Classroom Technology So Long, Remote Learning: Why Some Districts Are Ending Virtual Options
More than one-third of a sample of 100 school districts are not offering full-time remote learning options this school year.
3 min read
Photograph of a young girl reading, wearing headphones and working at her desk at home with laptop near by.
Some school districts are ending their remote learning programs because they were not nearly as effective as in-person instruction.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Classroom Technology 5 Big Technology Challenges Teachers and Administrators Will Face This School Year
Grappling with cybersecurity and what to do with all those new devices are big ones.
5 min read
Students using computers.
Classroom Technology The Number of Ed-Tech Tools School Districts Use Has Almost Tripled. That's a Problem
Schools can't provide effective training on how to use all of the new tools properly.
3 min read
Kids Coding In School
Classroom Technology What Do Teachers Think About an AI Model That Writes Essays? We Had Them Test It
Three teachers tested out a new technology that generates essays, poems, sales pitches, and other writings on command.
5 min read
Teacher bot concept emerging from a laptop with a word bubble that reads "Hi"
iStock/Getty Images Plus