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Young people spend much of each day online and receive different messages from the media they consume. Digital literacy is the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the internet.

Young people today use the internet and social media to explore, connect, create and learn, unlike any previous generation. Digital connection plays a vital role in young people’s academic and social lives and can foster friendship, critical thinking, and unprecedented access to information.

Unique online challenges like cyberbullying, safety and security concerns, and sharing inappropriate content can have severe consequences. Similarly, parents should help children develop healthy habits and routines around technology use. Parents and families should talk with their children about the importance of good digital citizenship and the severity of the potential consequences of bad decisions made online.

Parents, guardians, and trusted adults play an active role in teaching young people about digital literacy. Here are some critical digital literacy skills young people can learn at home and school.

Tech Fundamentals

  • Use Wait Until 8th‘s Family Guides to help your family learn and grow together in the digital arena. Print their downloadable guides to facilitate meaningful conversations with your children about the purpose of a phone, phone fundamentals, and texting. Wait Until 8th is adding more guides this school year on important subjects like social media.

Searching Effectively

  • From researching a school report to watching the latest music video, kids need to learn how to evaluate the quality, credibility, and validity of media and give proper credit to the source.

Protecting Private Information Online

  • With so many ways to share information, kids need to learn internet safety basics. Safety basics include: creating strong passwords, using privacy settings, and respecting their friends’ privacy.
    • Discuss what is appropriate to share online.
    • Talk with your young person about what to do if someone shares a photo or video with them they did not ask to receive.

Understanding Digital Footprints

  • Digital media and interactions like visiting websites and clicking on links create tiny tracks. Young people need to know that whenever they create a profile, post something, or comment on something, they create a record that is viewable by others. Commonsensemedia.org is a great online resource for questions about media and digital literacy.

Social Media Threats

  • Young people who make threats to schools on social media are subject to severe and potentially life-altering consequences. Regardless of the original intention of a social media post, whether it was a joke or an expression of frustration, students can face long-term suspension, arrest, and criminal charges.¬†Parents should talk with their children about the seriousness of posting a threat and what to do if they see a threat posted by a friend or peer.

Talk to your child about sexualized content online or in the media

  • Talks about sexualized media provide young people with the skills that increase their safety online and help them have a critical lens for the content they might see. What begins early, like helping them understand how to use a device or what messages to take in when watching their favorite shows, is part of building blocks leading to future conversations about sexual content online, like porn.
  • Here is an example script for Elementary and Primary aged kids (ages 4-10):
    • “It’s normal to be curious about bodies. If you ever come across pictures or videos of people naked or touching each other’s genitals or private parts, this is called pornography or porn. These images are for adults, not kids. If you see things like this, you’re not in trouble. I’d like for you to turn off the device or step away from it and let me or a trusted adult know so we can help talk to you about what you’ve seen.”
  • Check out this resource guide from Sex Positive Families to learn more about talking with your child about media literacy.
  • Young people need to know that sharing sexualized images and videos of themselves or others is not okay and can result in consequences at home, at school, and even from law enforcement.
  • Work to ensure you’ve adequately set up devices to guard against harmful apps and defend your devices. The Wait Until 8th campaign has an entire database of guides separated by the device. Click here to learn more.
  • If your child already has a smartphone or uses other devices with internet access, there are ways to protect your child from unsafe content through parental controls. You can learn more about parental controls by visiting Parents’ Ultimate Guide to Parental Controls by common sense media.

Cyberbullying is bullying or harassment over devices like cellphones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying happens over text messages, apps, online gaming communities, and social media like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. States and schools have laws against cyberbullying. Below are ways to keep your young person safe. Visit the cyberbullying resource section hosted by stopbully.gov to learn more.

  • Talk to your young person about cyberbullying
  • If they have experienced cyberbullying, ask them to tell you or a trusted adult
  • If your young person is being cyberbullied, tell them to:
    • Not respond or retaliate
    • Block the bully
    • Save the evidence
    • Report the cyberbullying

Sexting is sending nude or explicit images of self or others and/or explicit text messages over the phone, an app, or the internet.

It’s far too easy for kids to assume that private online communication stays private. It feels intimate, and sharing intimate details is one way we build close relationships, which is part of the developmental work of adolescence. But teens need to know that any private exchange of words or photos can also be shared with the whole school, not to mention the rest of the world.

Images have a life of their own

  • Information is far less secure and more accessible in the current digital environment. For instance, your child may trust their boyfriend with a photo, but he, in turn, might trust a close friend who may think it would be fun to share them. Images may end up in the hands of many other children or adults.

Sexting could result in a criminal record

  • It is illegal to distribute child pornography, and someone underage can be charged with distributing child pornography, even if they are disseminating a photo of themselves. So can anyone who shares the pictures with someone else. Remind your children they may face serious consequences. It has happened to other kids.

Dignity & privacy are worth protecting

  • Remind your child that they care about how the world sees them. Sexting can take away your child’s control over their privacy, and once an image has been distributed, it is impossible to take it back. Encourage your child to refrain from sexting to ensure they remain in control of their privacy.

Think before you act

  • Ask your child to think carefully about what they share with others. Sexting is one of those things that, done casually, can have very painful consequences.
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