It’s Time to Teach Digital Life Skills In School

August 7, 2015

Six years ago, when my oldest daughter was in 8th grade, the brand new principal at her school found himself faced with a social media “incident”— involving teenage girls, unflattering photos, and Facebook. For nearly a week I watched as tearful students, angry parents, and concerned teachers filed in and out of his office.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. So as a mother of one of these students (and having just completed the first M.A. program in “Media Psychology and Social Change”), I saw the necessity of teaching digital life skills to kids in school.

“We as educators need to remember that teaching the whole child is paramount, and in the 21st century, digital literacy has to be a component,” Faltas says.

That was the year we launched “Cyber Civics.” The school principal, Shaheer Faltas, was happy (and frankly relieved) to let me convert an existing middle school “Civics” class into “Cyber Civics.” Our goal was to preempt future social media “incidents” and to teach students to become productive, safe, and competent “digital citizens.”

According to Faltas, “In the first two years after implementing Cyber Civics, the school’s Academic Performance Index score grew from 766 to 878—the highest in the school’s history. Only three incidents of poor digital behavior or online bullying have been reported since 2010, and none have occurred in the last two years.”

“We as educators need to remember that teaching the whole child is paramount, and in the 21st century, digital literacy has to be a component,” Faltas says.

Cyber Civics Today

Today Cyber Civics is a robust, three-year program available to all schools. Lessons in Digital Citizenship, Information Literacy, and Media Literacy, and supporting materials, are online where teachers can easily access them to teach in their own classrooms. The program includes professional development support and a communications portal that lets teachers ask each other, and us, questions about the lessons. Schools in eight states are now teaching Cyber Civics.

We often get asked, “How much do I need to know about technology to teach these lessons?” The answer is simple: “Not much.” The most important digital literacy skills, according to experts, are social and behavioral skills. Adults still know more about those than preteens and teens, no matter how savvy they seem with their devices.

The Time Is Now

Never has there been more critical time to provide students with the social and behavioral skills that will prepare them to thrive online. These lessons must come hand in hand with classrooms outfitted with latest technology. Scores of schools have distributed iPads and Chromebooks without fully preparing students (or teachers) with the behavioral skills that these powerful, networked devices demand. And, largely, the outcomes haven’t been pretty.

There are lots of ways to teach digital life skills, or digital literacy, in school, and loads of great resources available online to get you started. The first step is to make the commitment. We invite you to try Cyber Civics by downloading sample lessons at

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

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.