After-School Efforts To Teach Digital Citizenship Lessons a Drag? Some Tips for Public Youth Services Librarians

How can public librarians convince kids to give up what little free time they have to talk with us about keeping themselves and their private information safe online? Here are a few tips.

I have a large family with younger siblings. During this year’s family vacation, we discovered that my tween brother thought he was tricking the system, but he had accidentally charged hundreds of dollars through “freemium” games. Knowing the result of recent court decisions regarding minors and in-app purchases, I was relatively sure we could get the charges reimbursed, but it was upsetting just the same. My parents’ instinct was to cut my brother off from everything electronic: delete every game and account and remove him from the Internet. I don’t think I have to elaborate on why this is a horrible idea, not to mention unrealistic. But this can be a natural reaction for many who aren’t aware of an alternative.

According to a recent study on Internet/social media use, 95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone. The Pew Research Center released a study earlier this year showing that a large portion of teens are worried about how often they use their cell phones. Some kids have become aware of their own dependence on online technology and have willingly logged off . With the move toward e-pay options, face recognition software, and even implanted chips, it’s important to help young people find a happy medium when it comes to technology use. This is often referred to as “digital citizenship.”

Unfortunately, Internet safety and digital citizenship are not the coolest topics to discuss with tweens. School librarians typically have an easier time imparting structured lessons that are supported by and integrated into formal curricula, but how can public librarians convince kids to give up what little free time they have to talk with us about keeping themselves and their private information safe? Here are a few tips:

  • My brother, like so many tweens, is not the type to sit quietly and listen to a long lecture about why it’s bad to share personal information online. To reach these kids, we need to be engaging and relatable. One easy first step to get them listening? Offer snacks! Providing food is always a winning strategy to get the kids in the door.
  • Once you have a captive (and munching) audience, offer some basic and simple facts. Common Sense Media has an excellent resource for educators looking to incorporate digital citizenship into their lessons. From their website, you can access games, lessons, and videos relating to cyberbullying, Internet safety, and information on how to properly cite sources.
  • Do you have a breakoutedu box? Their database includes a few free games that teach different aspects of digital citizenship.
  • Ditch That Textbook has compiled a list of picture books that could work well as conversation starters.
  • Whenever possible, guardians should be involved in the conversation. Bringing them into the picture can raise their awareness of what to look for and how to guide tweens to be decent people both off and online.

This summer, a coworker and I plan to provide pizza and invite kids and their parents to play Fortnite together—but not before a quick talk about Internet safety and courtesy. We hope the allure of the popular T-rated game and greasy food will help them overlook the fact that we’re also going to be teaching them an important lesson.

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