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Digital Literacy Findings

With kids spending over 9 hours a day online, they're now considered Digital Citizens. And they need to be digitally literate to function in the 21st century. Digital literacy entails more than just technical knowledge. In an increasingly connected world, digital literacy means empowering children to be protected from, yet also simultaneously inspired by, the vast array of information online. This involves guiding children to use digital media for communicating, learning, and thinking in ways that benefit them while limiting their exposure to privacy threats or harmful material. A multi-pronged approach to teaching digital literacy is necessary, with a focus on education on cyberbullying, digital privacy, and media literacy.

Research Summary

The American Library Association (ALA) defines digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.”  The hope is that the users of digital media are able to be responsible users of a powerful tool, and can evaluate, identify and communicate safely.

When it comes to children, many organizations have a complex Digital Citizenship Curriculum that is broken down by grade level.  Being ethical and kind online is not that different from being ethical and kind in real life, except its amplified and can be tracked. 

The opportunities are exciting but teachers and parents need to understand the negative effects which include 
 cyberbullying, misinformation, privacy and developing critical thinking skills.

Key Takeaways

Teens and tweens are online between 7 and 9 hours a day, and this does not include educational screen time. They are bombarded by images and messages that are curated for them, by tracking their taste and choices. Cyber-bullying is so prevalent and under-reported due to fears of being called a snitch. So the need for Digital Literacy has never been greater. We are diving further into a few topics that are relevant to young digital citizens below


More than 1 in 3 children have reported being the victim of cyberbullying, and this prevalence only heightens when they enter adolescence. Therefore it's no surprise  that cyberbullying has been linked to a variety of negative behavioral and emotional outcomes in children and adolescents, deeming it a serious public health issue. 

Studies have even reported that cyberbullying on social media is far more painful and traumatizing for children when compared to being bullied in offline settings. Cyberbullying has also been linked to developmental concerns such as low self-worth and increased school absences.

Negative consequences of cyberbullying also extend to compromised privacy, lower academic achievement, and poorer mental health overall. This pressing issue has compelled global policymakers such as UNICEF to declare that "no child is completely safe in the digital world."

A parent's role is seen as critical for equipping children to cope with cyberbullying and to learn how to steer clear of environments where cyberbullying takes place. For example, nurturing parent-child relationships with open, active communication have been tied to children experiencing lower rates of cyberbullying. Researchers have also looked into the roles of schools, and observed that positive school climates lead to fewer incidents of cyberbullying among students.


Digital privacy

In today's data-driven economy, children have become a major source of data for companies. All aspects of children’s lives are inevitably becoming data field. This means that children’s options for what activities they participate in, alongside the factors of their personal development, are all influenced by data practices dictated by financial and political priorities far beyond a child's control or understanding. 

From the moment they are born, much of what children do and what happens to them and around them will be digitally recorded, with severe ramifications for their future opportunities.

Currently, schools teach a mixture of digital awareness and computer skills, but general information science and media education curricula very seldom include considerations of the digital economy and its technological processes. 

Children require not only better technological tools to manage their digital privacy; they also need to develop a better sense of how the digital world works in terms of marketing, business, and government oversight. 

Companies, parents, and the government all have a role to play in developing navigable and inclusive online spaces where kids can have real agency over their lives. The tech industry, in particular, must do more to uplift children's rights and prioritize privacy by design in their products.

Digital media literacy

Recent studies have revealed shocking results regarding the media literacy capacity of youth. One study that assessed middle school, high school, and undergraduate students across the nation saw a large majority failing to decipher the credibility of online content.

Research has found that children are unable tell fake news apart from real news, politically motivated texts apart from neutral sources, and in some cases, even fail to recognize when an article was advertising a product. The researchers noted: “​​Many assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally savvy about what they find there. Our work shows the opposite.”

​​Both parents and teachers should be more deliberate in their efforts to teach children how to navigate different digital platforms. This guidance involves helping children develop and adjust their critical thinking caps when interacting with different digital mediums. 

Parents should talk to their children daily about the online content they consume to help them develop digital literacy and instill informed digital media literacy not just for projects, but as a lifestyle. Children must be taught to be skeptical of internet sources and the potential consequences of consuming false information.


[1] González-Cabrera, J., León-Mejía, A., Beranuy, M., Gutiérrez-Ortega, M., Álvarez-Bardón, A., & Machimbarrena, J. M. (2018). Relationship between cyberbullying and health-related quality of life in a sample of children and adolescents. Quality of life research, 27(10), 2609-2618.

[2] Keeley, B., & Little, C. (2017). The State of the Worlds Children 2017: Children in a Digital World. UNICEF. 3 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017.

[3] Kwan, I., Dickson, K., Richardson, M., MacDowall, W., Burchett, H., Stansfield, C., ... & Thomas, J. (2020). Cyberbullying and children and young people's mental health: a systematic map of systematic reviews. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 23(2), 72-82.

[4] Livingstone, S. (2014). Developing social media literacy: How children learn to interpret risky opportunities on social network sites. Communications, 39(3), 283-303.

[5] Stanford History Education Group. (2016). Evaluating information: The cornerstone of civic online reasoning. Executive Summary.

[6] Stoilova, M., Livingstone, S., & Nandagiri, R. (2020). Digital by default: Children’s capacity to understand and manage online data and privacy. Media and Communication.

[7] Zhu, C., Huang, S., Evans, R., & Zhang, W. (2021). Cyberbullying among adolescents and children: a comprehensive review of the global situation, risk factors, and preventive measures. Frontiers in public health, 9.

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