COVID-19 is a Civic Moment

April 29, 2020

Imagine being a kid during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Overnight you’ve gone from being a carefree youth at school or outside playing with all your friends, to suddenly finding yourself confined at home with your family. And, as far as you know, there is no end in sight. Your only connection to school, and your friends for that matter, is online. That’s also the place you have been told, repeatedly, where you already spend too much time. In addition, this confusing set of circumstances is being explained to you like this, “It is every good citizen’s responsibility to stay home in order to keep the larger community safe.”

If you’re a kid, you are probably wondering: “How does one citizen’s actions impact an entire community?” and “What is a good citizen anyway?”

These are the very questions at the heart of “digital citizenship.” They’re the questions those of us committed to teaching digital citizenship try to help kids answer when it comes to their virtual lives. After all, most are already citizens of vast online communities full of invisible citizens, like Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, and more. These communities lack adult role models, internet police, crossing guards, or even commonly understood rules to keep their users in line or safe, so kids have had to figure out how to be good citizens all on their own. And, sadly, some of experienced the unfortunate consequences that come when not all citizens consider the common good.

Today’s events are shining a stark light on the importance of teaching good citizenship. Not only does it help kids when they go online (which, brace yourselves parents, they are going to be online a lot in the coming weeks!), it helps them when they are offline as well. Especially in moments like these.

We Are All in This Together

In a press briefing about COVID-19, California Governor Gavin Newsom was asked how he explains these challenging times to his own children who might not understand why they have to stay at home. He responded by calling this a “civic moment.” It is illustrating that we are more connected than ever and that all of our actions matter. This moment, he said, calls on individuals to be “heroes” by simply staying home. This is our civic responsibility.

Civics, the study of citizenship, is a subject that normally does not get much attention, in or out of school, and that’s too bad. In a recent study, Deloitte Access Economics forecast that “global citizenship” is a soft-skill that will account for business success in two-thirds of all jobs by 2030. As current events are so dramatically illustrating, there is a dire need for lessons in civics.

We hope we can fill this gap by providing families with three lessons on citizenship from Cyber Civics, the middle school digital literacy program. Each lesson includes simple activities that families can do at home with their kids, no tech required. They will help kids understand the concept of citizenship and the role we must all play in order to keep our communities safe, online and off.

These activities work best with youth between 11-14, but can be adapted for younger or older kids too:

Activity 1: The Five Principles of Citizenship teaches children the main tenets of citizenship and how people display them in the offline world.​

Activity 2: How To Be a Good Citizen Online lets children apply the five principles of citizenship to online communities they belong to, or will belong to in the future.

Activity 3: What Kind of Citizen Will You Be? This lesson reminds kids that citizens have a lot of choices when it comes to how they participate within a community. The accompanying activity challenges them to consider how their participation impacts other community members.

This is a challenging and stressful time for everyone, especially for our kids. They may be online more than we are comfortable with or would allow during normal times, and that may be okay for now. But let’s at least equip them with a basic understanding of how important their actions are, online and off, and hopefully we will get through this time with a renewed understanding of what good citizenship is all about.


Written by

Diana Graber

Diana Graber, author of “Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology (,” is the founder of Cyberwise ( and Cyber Civics (, two sites dedicated to improving the digital literacy skills of adults and children.