Marsali Hancock

We’ve all heard how our world is getting smaller -- how our digital connectivity is conquering distance and outpacing time. But how does this “closeness” shape the way we interact with each other? More importantly, how does it affect our youth?

The reality is this:

The way young people socialize online deeply affects the relationships they have with themselves and the people around them. We have to acknowledge that our kids meet and connect emotionally through their digital devices. They cultivate relationships through a number of virtual world connections -- by joining social networks and receiving status updates; building friend lists and groups; and exchanging IMs, texts and video messages.

After hearing countless news stories about identity theft, sexting and cyberbullying, we’ve made the frightening discovery that sometimes wires and signals can blur the link between actions from consequences. And many of us have seen our children’s misguided belief in “anonymity” slink in easy as pie, placing their security, reputation and life at risk.

But things are changing. Media literacy and global digital citizenship are quickly becoming key issues in education and law enforcement. Dialogue surrounding the consumption and production of information across connected technologies is growing at a heart-warming rate. And leaders are working alongside students, using their experience with the Internet, cell phones, MP3 players and gaming devices to create a framework for kids and teens worldwide to learn successfully “how to be good to each other” while engaging in new media activities.

Twenty years ago, good citizenship took place in the microcosm of the classroom and was simply rewarded with a certificate of merit. Today, with its millennial twist, global digital citizenship reaches far beyond the playground fence. And its stewards are enriched with a much deeper understanding of how their actions affect their own lives as well as those of their peers -- at home and around the world.

That’s why students must take an active role in identifying and establishing ethical digital use. They need to be involved in the critical thinking and policy creation that affects ultimate change. It’s called “buy-in” … and these days, our savvy students require it if they’ll be expected to have a healthy relationship with technology.

Defining successful global digital citizenship matters to all of us because it profoundly touches our youngest technocrats. Although they are swift enough to sync their social media profiles on their cells, they may not be equipped to handle the overwhelming cyber situations that erupt from uniformed decisions.

We all want to keep our kids safe, but that won’t happen if we create barriers and block device usage. Only when we empower them to explore their connected world will they be keyed in to the pitfalls and advantages of social navigation across all platforms.

Marsali’s 3 ‘Keeps’ for Parents:

Keep current

With the technology your child uses.

Keep communicating

About everything your child does with technology.

Keep checking.

Help kids understand that that the Internet is a public forum so they can safely navigate their online relationships and reputation.