Making Digital Citizenship a PTA Priority

By Mary Perry, California State PTA Communications Commission

How do we help families use technology responsibly for learning, creating, and participating in the larger community? That is the central question that educators, parents, and students are asked to think about during Digital Citizenship Week, which takes place from October 17-21 this year. 

Why is Digital Citizenship important?

We live in a digital age and so do our kids. Parents share both positive attitudes about technology and a lot of concerns as well, according to a 2016 national survey conducted by Common Sense Media. This video captures that ambivalence and helps underscore the valuable contribution PTAs can make.

Digital Citizenship Topics to Share with Families

The focused attention to this issue only lasts a week, but your PTA and school can address Digital Citizenship any time. You can easily share specific tips and ideas with families throughout the school year, thanks to Common Sense Education. They have created a wealth of resources for families that are organized based on student grade levels, can be printed out, and are meant to be shared. You can use them as hand-outs at a meeting or provide them (with credit to Common Sense Education) in newsletters and social media. These were created to align with a classroom curriculum, but two of the categories are ideal for PTAs to share, independent of what your school is doing. 

SEL [Social-Emotional Learning] in Digital Life Family Conversations – available in both English and Spanish, these are brief ideas for family conversations related to social-emotional learning (SEL) and technology. They’re grouped into grade spans (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12) and are framed around the predominant themes used in educators’ growing interest and instruction around social-emotional learning:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Responsible decision making
  • Relationship skills 
  • Social awareness

Family Tips – available in multiple languages (including English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Korean, Russian, Tagalog, Urdu, and Vietnamese), these printer friendly pages are made for sharing. Versions for grades K-5 and 6-12 provide parenting tips related to the following topics:

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

PTA and School Leaders Can Work Together

Creating a Digital Citizenship Campaign that is thoroughly planned and done in coordination with your school and/or school district is a bigger undertaking, but one that you may want to consider. As a PTA leader, you’ll do well to understand the needs and interests of both the families and educators at your school to decide whether a campaign around digital citizenship makes sense, what topics you might want to cover, and if this is an independent PTA activity or a school wide interest.

Plentiful resources are available, including an implementation guide that will walk you and your education leaders through how to make the campaign a success. Common Sense Education has also developed a toolkit that includes articles, videos, hand-outs, and ready-made presentations covering a range of Digital Citizenship topics. 

Let us know how your PTA or school is sharing ideas about Digital Citizenship by sending a link or short note to

Making Media Literacy Happen

By Mary Perry, California State PTA Communications Commission

The phrase “media literacy” can raise different issues for different people. One parent  might point to the cacophony of different advice regarding the pandemic. Another parent might put their concerns about social media exposure and student mental health at the top of their list. A local school board member might lament the recent media uproar related to curriculum choices.

In each of those examples, people agree that both adults and students need to better manage the flood of media messages the internet delivers to us all – every hour of every day. At the same time, having a world of information at our fingertips has become a way of life and we want our kids to have the tools they need to function well in that world. Ultimately, our democracy and our quality of life depend on it.

If our kids are going to be educated about media literacy, educators and families all have a part to play. Unfortunately, the approach to media literacy education is fragmented at best and completely missing at worst. PTAs can make an impact – below are some ideas to get started.

Agree locally on some basic definitions

Confusing terminology is one challenge in starting the conversation. We use the term media literacy here, but some organizations use information literacy, digital citizenship, or news literacy. While the precise definitions can vary, the basic intent is pretty much the same.

One of the first organizations to call attention to the need for media literacy education was the Center for Media Literacy (CML). This California-based nonprofit organization provides a comprehensive definition that is often quoted:

Media Literacy is a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate 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 of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.

To build support and take action, it’s important to work through any confusion caused by the jargon.

Make sure the adults – in both families and schools – understand basic media literacy concepts

Before we can teach media literacy to kids, we need to learn about it ourselves. If only there were a class for adults!

Unfortunately, resources to support parents who want to improve their understanding and skills in media literacy are much more limited than the available curriculum for students (and thus for teachers). That said, some good ones do exist.

CML has developed a short online course, called the Global On-Ramp to Media Literacy, that provides a concrete definition of media literacy and its importance, and has some food for thought regarding how we each approach media as consumers and as creators.

The News Literacy Project has developed several free resources for the public, such as an e-learning platform, shareable tips, and an annual news literacy event. You can share them to raise awareness and give your parent community some ways to educate themselves. You could also use them as the basis for a PTA meeting or workshop devoted to the topic.

The Family Online Safety Institute, an organization supported by the major internet and media corporations, has a robust section devoted to digital parenting generally. Among the many articles is one that provides a clear, accessible presentation about what they call Information Literacy. It’s worth a few minutes of your time and might also be a good discussion starter at your next PTA meeting.

Learn what your local schools are doing to make media literacy part of the curriculum

Experts increasingly agree about what high-quality media literacy education looks like and their work can help guide schools and families.

RAND, a non-profit research organization, has been among the leading voices calling attention to the need for media literacy education. They recently published curriculum guidance that educators can use to plan, implement, and evaluate their efforts. It’s a fairly dense “how to” that most parents/caregivers won’t find helpful. However, it does include a six-step framework you can use to ask about your local schools’ efforts, including questions like these: 

  • Have school and/or district staff developed a shared vision about media literacy education, including agreeing on standards to inform what is taught?
  • How have any discussions of media literacy been informed by our local context, including community needs and possibilities for community support?
  • What is the plan for implementing media literacy instruction? Are there classrooms or schools teaching this now or is there a timeline? Is there an intent to build on current efforts to get to a district level implementation?
  • What, if any, instructional resources have teachers, schools, or the district selected? How were they chosen?
  • What plans are there, or could there be, for sharing media literacy information with families?
  • How does the school and/or district plan to measure students’ competency in media literacy?

Make Media Literacy a focus in your PTA, school, and community

In our series of posts on the topic of media literacy, we have:

So what is a logical next step? Of course, it depends on your local situation, but help and a wealth of good ideas abound. For example, Media Literacy Now is a national organization working to ensure essential media literacy skills are taught in every classroom, in every subject. Along with a rundown of what states have done to support media literacy, their Pathways Project has lots of suggestions for what PTA leaders can do to support media literacy at the school, school district, and community levels.

You can also start by accessing these organizations, all of which support media literacy and have plenty of free resources to share.

PTA members with questions about this or other Communications topics can send them to