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6 Principles of Digital Citizenship to Teach in Elementary School

Digital citizenship refers to using the internet and technology regularly and responsibly. With digital usage expanding into multiple roles of our daily lives, children are also online more than ever, whether for school or social reasons. This makes it essential to prepare students early on about navigating our increasingly digital world effectively. 

To help you introduce digital citizenship into your curriculum, we will cover the six principles of digital citizenship to teach in elementary schools and their importance.

Why Teaching Digital Citizenship is Important

Being a good citizen is no longer limited to the physical world. It also applies to the digital world and how students interact or relate with others online. With our society constantly evolving with new technologies, students are already engaging in digital platforms outside school. It only makes sense to use an educational setting to guide students in using digital capabilities effectively and responsibly. When students learn about digital citizenship, they will recognize the rules of good behavior online and potential dangers to avoid. 

Promoting education in digital citizenship also provides a necessary foundation for students who will benefit from it in college and the workplace. When applying to colleges or jobs, more and more schools or businesses analyze digital footprints to see an applicant's social reputation and online persona. It's essential to teach students how to create healthy online profiles to ensure plenty of future opportunities.

6 Principles of Digital Citizenship

1. Healthy Usage Patterns

Spending time online shouldn't interfere with your student's other needs, such as physical activity, sleep, and social or family time. It's crucial to help kids build awareness and self-discipline around reasonable and healthy digital usage patterns. Studies have even shown how excessive use of digital resources negatively impacts the minds, especially of children. 

Ways to encourage your students to find balance in their digital usage patterns include:

  • Teaching students to track the time they spend online, whether through usage-tracking apps or writing it down.
  • Helping students see the benefits of getting offline and reading a book, doing outdoor physical activities, or playing games. 
  • Explaining why off-screen time or digital restrictions they experience at home benefits their overall wellbeing.

2. Safety and Privacy

Before students start sharing information about themselves online, help them understand why safety and privacy are important. Teach them the information they need to keep private, such as where they live and their contact details. You can also show students how to change their social media accounts to private, so they only share posts with people they know. Knowing what to keep private will help them be safer online and offline. 

Other essential online safety lessons include:

  • Identifying safe websites
  • Avoiding viruses with antivirus software 
  • Creating strong passwords 
  • Identifying online scams  
  • Understanding why age-appropriate content is important 

An example of an interactive game platform for grades 3 to 5 is Digital Passport. Let students play Password Protect to learn about creating safe and secure passwords or Share Jumper to help decision-making around what information to share and when.

3. Online Etiquette

Being polite, respectful, and considerate isn't restricted to offline interactions. Students need to learn how to communicate kindly online. People can easily misunderstand words without body language or tone, so explain why they should be mindful about what they post or send to friends and family. Let them know that once they send something, it's often permanent. 

You can help students build empathy and social awareness through social-emotional learning activities. Examples include artistic projects where students explain the emotions behind their creations. This allows them express themselves and process feelings. You can also teach mindfulness tools to encourage students to pause, take a breath, and observe a situation before taking action.

It's also important to teach your students how to respond to inappropriate online situations, such as when they experience or witness cyberbullying. For example, encourage them to speak up about bullying and provide the resources to take action. Apps such as Speak Up lets students report bullying incidents anonymously.

4. Social Activities

Besides balancing their social interactions and having online etiquette, students also need to understand the broader impacts of their online social activities. Students might not realize the importance of having a clean digital reputation and need an introduction to the concept of a digital footprint.

Help them understand the difference between healthy and negative online social interactions. Also, explain that what they post and send creates an online persona that future colleges and employers will be looking for. Hitting delete doesn't always permanently remove the content they've shared.

5. Digital Literacy

Digital literacy is the foundation of using different aspects of technology effectively. Not all students have the same digital access at home, so teaching them skills in the classroom can help bridge any gaps in digital literacy. Examples of digital literacy skills you can teach, include:

  • How to use keywords to find answers on search engines 
  • Understanding what copyright and plagiarism is 
  • Practicing using their mouse with online drawing activities 
  • Learning to use their keyboards and improve their typing 
  • The basics of navigating devices such as power buttons, volume controls, and saving work

6. Critical Thinking

While students may know how to search for information online, they still need help determining the accuracy of the information they come across. Learning to think critically helps students identify what information can be trusted. This includes email subject lines or clickbait titles that can be dangerous. 

You'll also want to encourage students to identify misinformation by getting into the habit of asking questions about the information they come across online. Examples include:

  • Who created this?
  • Who would benefit from this?
  • What are they not telling me?
  • Where is the evidence?
  • When was this last updated?
  • Why was this created?
  • How do I know it's true?

An example of a fun activity you can play with students is Tricky Pictures. By presenting two photos with different headlines, the activity teaches students to identify true stories from made-up ones.


Protecting students from online dangers and teaching them to utilize new technologies effectively and responsibly will set them up for the future. With these activities targeted towards elementary students, you can provide them with the proper habits to become good digital citizens early on.

Written by Sara Menges
Education World Contributor
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