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Digital Citizenship… to teach or not to teach?

This week’s debate: “Educators and schools have a responsibility to help their students develop a digital footprint.” Ultimately I understand the arguments that the “disagree” side was making: teachers are not fully equipped to teach about digital citizenship, and the responsibility should ultimately lie with parents. As well, the responsibility of teaching this adds more to a teacher’s plate, contributing to teacher burnout. However, I still firmly land on the side of “agree” as I believe it is part of our job as teachers to prepare students to be citizens of our community – a community that is both physical and digital. 

I would argue that teaching digital citizenship to students is not “extra” or an additional responsibility to our teaching load. Rather, it is part of the curriculum, a curriculum that changes as technology changes and our world changes. While I can’t speak knowledgeably to the elementary curriculum in Saskatchewan, there are a number of examples at the secondary level that easily encompass digital citizenship. 

Most obviously, citizenship is a core through line for the Social Studies curriculum. The Social 10 curriculum, for example, states, “Social studies in the school setting has a unique responsibility for providing students with the opportunity to acquire knowledge, skills and values to function effectively within their local and national society which is enmeshed in an interdependent world” (Social Studies 10 Curriculum – Ministry of SK, p. 3). I would argue that as part of citizenship education, teaching how to be an effective and responsible digital citizen is an integral part of considering how to function in our world today. Was this essential ten years ago, twenty years ago? No. However, our world has changed, and our digital lives are such a significant part of our individual and collective identity, that to ignore this considerable element would be irresponsible. 

Are we solely in charge of this? I don’t think so, and I don’t think anyone is suggesting that we, as teachers, be the sole gatekeepers of digital citizenship education. We are no more  no more than the sole responsibility of teaching citizenship in general falls on social science teachers. We have a responsibility to teach, but the buck need not stop with us; we are all responsible for our own actions, our own learning. Paul Davis very clearly lays that out in the Ted Talk that Rahima and Jessica shared. In teaching digital citizenship we aren’t excusing parents. To be clear, I recognize the problems with what I’m suggesting — as you listen to Davis’s knowledge, it is clear that I am not fully equipped to teach this. As teachers we need PD, we need training, and we need time. But, that is not the issue – this issue is should we be teaching this, and I fully believe that it fits into our purview as teachers. I would argue that our job is to prepare students to become responsible, productive citizens of our communities. It is our job to prepare students for the future. Digital identities and digital lives are a part of that future.  

I think another major reason teachers should teach digital literacy and digital citizenship is because we are asking students to engage with us in digital ways. For example, in ELA we teach students how to create blogs, and how to share their learning in creative and engaging ways. This might be via social media on any number of online platforms. How can we expect students to create digital content without teaching them digital literacy? Sisk and Stegman outline the ways this can be done in a “controlled, walled garden” – through closed Google docs and other protected apps. However, students are already sharing their lives (ad nauseam?) on a variety of platforms – it seems like if they are already having sex, we better teach them about condoms, right?

In another vein, one of the articles Alec shared brought me to another element of digital citizenship that wasn’t really discussed directly in the debates: parental oversharing of their children’s lives. The possible ramifications of such sharing really kind of scared me. The notion that you could one day be sued for sharing pictures of your own children is truly awful. And to be honest, when I think about it, my initial reaction was, “Seriously?! Come on. It’s your kids… you can do whatever you want! Don’t be ridiculous.” I mean, I love seeing pics of my friends’ kids online, and I feel more connected to them. Why is that so bad?! 

But… then I went down a TikTok hole of parental oversharing, and boy… my perspective has shifted a bit. I think when I initially read that article, I was picturing parents who are sharing a few pictures on Instagram, or Facebook, or whatever platform they are into. However, as I did some exploring, I found a lot of people had a lot to say about those parents who are making a living sharing their kids’ lives. 

Sharenting… parents who overshare their children’s identity.

TikToker her.atlas termed it “sharenting” – the oversharing of children’s identity. But one of the problems (among so many problems), creator Jess Martini  identifies is that in sharing so much information children have an identity created for them that is not their own. She uses the example of the Gosselin children (of Jon and Kate Plus Eight fame) as an example. So, one child is framed as “the academic” or “the problem child” etc. Martini comments that some of these students are now adults, and speaking out about the ways this constant exposure has impacted them.  In the Guardian article I talked about earlier, Professor Nicola Whitten says, “I think we’re going to get a backlash in years to come from young people coming to realise that they’ve had their whole lives, from the day they were born, available to social media.” I think this backlash is happening already. 


This is hands down the most important video I’ve ever made. Please listen. #familyvlog #fyp #letter #anonymous #story

♬ original sound – Caroline

Above, TikToker Caroline Easom shares the story of one teen who reached out to her to talk about the experience of growing up in vlogging family, a family that documents everything, and who earn their living sharing this content. In an anonymous letter to future vloggers, the teen vehemently discourages using children to create content. One quote stood out to me: “ You [the parent] will be their boss and they [the child] will be your employee … I’ve been an employee since I was five.” Whew! That’s tough to hear, and something I hadn’t really thought about. I mean, I have enjoyed watching content creators like the Dougherty Dozen, and the stories (and grocery bills and food prep!) of their twelve kids. But a little searching revealed multiple other videos dedicated to “revealing the truth” about the family. Some of the backlash is about the waste that the family creates ( 12 kids yields a lot of garbage?!), or the lack of privacy for their children, many of whom have disabilities. 

The Dougherty Dozen

After watching some of these videos regarding the sharing of children’s lives, I have perhaps a better understanding and perspective of this issue. The complexity of creating digital identities for children makes for a complicated problem, and again, I’m not sure there are any easy answers. Except maybe post nothing, and have zero social media. That’s an answer, I suppose.


Author: Janeen Clark

I am a teacher with Regina Public Schools in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Primarily I teach ELA and Fine Arts, and I am a part of Balfour Arts Collective.

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