Practicing Digital Citizenship at Camp

Digital Citizenship not yet Present in Summer Camps

Parents living in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area most likely will not be familiar with the Berean Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This school is quite interesting because it is one of the few summer camp providers in the United States that incorporates digital citizenship into its programming!

Despite the vast assortment of summer camps across Maryland, D.C., and Virginia, parents may be curious as to why it’s important for summer camps to include lessons on digital citizenship in what is supposed to be a stress-free, relaxing, fun, social environment. The short answer is: to keep up with what our schools are doing.

The increased dependency and usage of technology in schools has dictated the necessity to make changes to classroom lessons and state-wide policies on “appropriate and responsible usage of technology,” also known as digital citizenship. The Virginia Department of Education, for example, has invested considerable effort to implement a 5-year technology education plan for its public schools with detailed objectives, including digital citizenship.

Seeing that local schools are teaching kids how to use technology appropriately and responsibly, it would make sense for summer camps to follow suit. However, parents need not be discouraged if they find a summer camp they love for their children and don’t see any mention of digital citizenship anywhere in their materials.

Parents can still help their children be good digital citizens at summer camp by following a few simple suggestions.

Learn the Lingo!

Digital citizenship principles vary in scope and complexity. The older the children are, the more they are expected to understand and practice every day. Nonprofit group Common Sense Media created a website to help parents and educators implement digital citizenship lesson plans at home or school. When parents visit, they can browse by topic and learn how information literacy, internet safety, cyberbullying and digital footprints, to name a few, are important aspects of digital citizenship.

In broad terms, it is important for parents to understand that digital citizenship is a set of acceptable behaviors (“norms”) associated with use of technology. Very often, the behaviors are tied to social and emotional learning and are unrelated to technical skills, speed or design prowess. If parents understand the best ways for children to behave when using technology, they can help their children practice digital citizenship at summer camp.

Teach Kids to Be Kind … Always

Summer camps are the melting pot of children coming together to have one day, one week or one month of concentrated fun with camp counselors, teens and adults. Children attending summer camps come from different cultural and language backgrounds, may be economically disadvantaged, may have learning or physical disabilities or may have family dynamics that are vastly different than what your children are used to.

In all circumstances, teach children to be kind…always. Children should be kind and respectful when doing any tasks using electronic devices. For example, children should use clean, tasteful language and images. The fact that the summer camp structure is far less stringent than school standards does not excuse children from exercising good judgment with the way they treat people both in person and online.

Teach Children to Have Patience With Themselves and Others

Participating in a summer camp in STEM disciplines may involve concepts to which children may not have been exposed. Children will accomplish more in life by learning to exercise patience both with themselves and with others, particularly if they don’t immediately understand what is being taught. All children do not learn the same. Learning to control emotions and not get angry at the flip of a switch is a trait that lasts for life.

It’s Okay to Look at the Work of Others

Here is a suggestion that may seem counterintuitive to parents, but is actually a clever way to induce “collaborative learning.” Teaching children that it’s okay to look at the work of other campers working with electronic devices gives campers the opportunity to communicate about the activity at hand. Open communication naturally leads to collaborative learning, which is two or more people working on one project.

From a practical point of view, it makes sense for a child to look over the shoulders of a fellow camper working on a digital project. This serves as a great segue for curiosity and questions: How did you do that? How can I get my robot to move? Why is my photo blurry and yours is clear? That is exactly how collaborative learning is born! Getting two or more children to research and discover a project together enhances learning for both.

Typically, schools require children to be independent learners, equating children looking at someone else’s test papers with cheating. By contrast, the more relaxed summer camp setting often requires students to look at the work of others and to work in pairs!

Detachment Versus Real Relationships

Social media and technology use, as progressive and useful as they are, also have their pitfalls to avoid. The most dangerous is the tendency of the technology user to become detached emotionally from the world around them.

It is very, very easy for children to excel and become proficient playing an electronic game or building a house in Minecraft or creating a movie using Adobe After Effects. The problem is when they get too involved in digital life, they become detached from real life and start to have unrealistic expectations for what their lives should or should not be like.

Parents can keep their children grounded and safe by reminding them that digital skills learned are enjoyable, but are not substitutes for “real life:” old-fashioned things such as laughter, one-on-one conversation, family dinners and reading physical books.

By knowing some of the basics involved with what makes a child a good digital citizen, parents will be able to help their children enjoy themselves at summer camp and behave purposefully and consciously.