Updated: Jan 21, 2021
I have always struggled with requests to speak to families about digital citizenship. Part of my trepidation came from feeling like I had to be the person with 'all the right answers' for any digital dilemma a parent might bring up. It also made me uncomfortable to engage in such personal dialogue with a community of people of which I was not a member. Finally, I've always stood firm in my belief that digital citizenship should not be a standalone, one-time set of lessons in school. Delivering a speech or lecture to families for an hour or two (only to never connect with them again) felt like the equivalent of the one-off lessons for students I had been critiquing for years.
Recent conversations with a dear friend and digital citizenship colleague, LeeAnn Lindsey, helped me see that I was not alone in my thinking. She had similarly struggled with ways to authentically support schools in their efforts with parents. Through our conversations, we came to realize there is no "one size fits all" approach to digital citizenship education for the community. Every community, and every family unit inside of that community, has their own set of values, priorities, and experiences that must to be taken into consideration when having conversations about the human side of technology.
I always tell teachers there are no experts in digital citizenship, so they don't have to worry about having the 'right answers.' I remind them that the best digital citizenship lessons involve a safe space for conversation, thought provoking questions, and opportunities for students to talk about their ideas and experiences. So why am I just now figuring out that families need the exact same thing?
Families do not need to be told how to run their own or their child's digital lives. They need a safe space for family conversations, thought provoking questions and activities to help them open up with one another, and tools and resources that can support them in whatever decisions they make about the role of digital devices in their home.
Family education with the goals listed above looks very different from the stand and deliver sessions I've been asked to deliver in school gymnasiums and libraries to weary parents after a long day of work. That is why LeeAnn Lindsey and I have created a Digital Citizenship Family Event Kit. This kit puts families and their priorities at the center and uses educators as the facilitators and guides on the side through the use of engaging, discussion based stations and empowering materials to take home after the event.