Expert Tips For Raising and Educating Digital Citizens

by California State PTA Communications Commission

Our children are growing up in a rapidly-changing digital world. How do we make sure they’re safe and at the same time give them the skills they need to thrive in the world that awaits them?

This topic was addressed in the “Raising and Educating Safe, Smart Digital Citizens” workshop led by Jennifer Howerter and Renee Ousley-Swank, from the California Department of Education (CDE), and Jamie Nunez, from Common Sense Education. 

Each of the speakers addressed important questions related to this important topic.

What do we mean by terms like digital and media literacy?

Howerter, who serves as an education program consultant for the CDE, provided these clear definitions:

  • DIGITAL LITERACY: The ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills. — American Library Association
  • INFORMATION LITERACY: A set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information. — American Library Association
  • MEDIA LITERACY EDUCATION: Provides a framework … [for] using messages in a variety of forms—from print to video to the internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills … for citizens of a democracy. — Center for Media Literacy

Are California schools making digital citizenship and media literacy part of the curriculum?

Ousley-Swank, a school library tech for the CDE, underscored the importance of the Model School Library Standards that can and should guide curriculum content for local educators.

She also worked with local school district librarians to create two short videos for the workshop that illustrate what is possible and the role parent leaders can play in realizing those possibilities.

  • Dinuba Unified School District is located in Tulare County and serves about 6,500 K-12 students. The district adopted its Digital Learning Plan in 2022.  
  • Encinitas Union School District, in San Diego County, serves 5,400 K-6 students and provided this video that explains the district’s approach to media and information literacy.  

How can PTA help families and educators teach kids about digital citizenship and media literacy?

Nunez has an inside view of the multitude of free resources available from Common Sense Education, where he is Western regional director. For this workshop, he taught attendees a few easy tricks for identifying misinformation and tapping into the natural curiosity of children and adults to build digital literacy.  

Common Sense Education has created a free curriculum, used by many schools, that includes resources teachers can share with parents (in both English and Spanish). The curriculum is organized around six topics: 

  • Media Balance & Well-Being 
  • Privacy & Security
  • Digital Footprint & Identity
  • Relationships and Communication
  • Cyberbullying, Digital Drama, & Hate Speech
  • News & Media Literacy

Their work also includes a powerful suite of materials PTA leaders can use to share information with families, support classroom instruction in digital and media literacy where it’s happening, and learn about how such instruction can be implemented in their schools. 

How can PTAs best advocate for digital and media literacy education?

This PTA Position Statement on Media Literacy was approved by the California State PTA Board of Managers in February, 2023. It provides your local PTA with the authority to take on this issue and will also give you some good talking points.

Want to dig deeper and also get ideas for how to work with your local school or district? Blogs published previously by the California State PTA explore the issues of Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy in depth.