Gaming for good digital citizens

By: Jaime Donally

Most parents hold the back of the seat when their kids are learning to ride a bike; the same should be true for teaching them how to navigate their identity online.

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When my oldest daughter began requesting a social account, she was too young according to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act—COPPA. Disregarding my objection (and the law), she decided to create her first digital identity by falsifying her age. Within a day, my social account recommended I follow her because we shared common connections, and so I decided to use this as a teachable opportunity.

I set up an account with a pretend name and used an image online from her school to convince her to follow me back. I began sending messages and requested to meet her after school. Unaware of the potential danger she was in, she agreed. Before we ever had a chance to meet, my husband spilled the beans in frustration. We talked about how easy it was to convince her that I went to her school and how unsuspecting she was with virtual connections.

Now, more than ever, our students have expanded their digital identity online because of virtual learning, social media and gaming. Every digital activity (Twitch account, videos viewed on YouTube, etc.) marks new data about the child, extending their digital footprint in any online action. While digital activity increases, the dangers—such as hacked accounts, child exploitation and online scams—are rapidly growing. These concerns should be a reminder of the need to teach how to use the power of online connections for good.

The journey to learning must involve both child and caregiver working together. Digital exploration shouldn’t be done alone but instead as a family. As Dr. Marialice Curran explains, 

“Just like learning how to ride a bike, our children need us to run next to them as they figure out how to balance and be independent. As part of digital parenting, it is critical for our children to have someone holding the back of the bike seat as they set out on their online journey.” 

Dr. Marialice Curran, Digital Citizenship Institute founder and co-editor of DigCit Kids: Lessons Learning Side by Side to Empower Others Around the World.

Play to learn together

As the demand for more education on digital literacy grows, the delivery is most beneficial when the child is fully engaged. In other words, they learn better when they’re having fun. Games with a focus on learning about digital citizenship create a positive learning experience. Not only are children more immersed with the content, but the retention increases because they enjoy the lessons while spending long periods playing. 

Here are a few games you can play together, or with the whole family. Be mindful that the games are just one opportunity to become digitally literate. The goal is to empower our children to use technology for positive change. Not only can our children do incredible work, but they are also a valuable resource to teach us parents. Many children naturally have more technical knowledge than we give them credit for. 

For parents and kids


The “Be Internet Awesome” initiative by Google was first intended for educators to teach kids digital safety that’s essential for learners. Still, healthy online habits need to be practiced both at home and school. With the rapid changes in technology, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and want additional support. The guide is intended to support families to navigate good digital habits and includes the interactive game Interland

The online game is focused on five core values: be smart, alert, strong, kind and brave. The child can jump to different islands, learning a new value in each challenge. The games teach the child how to avoid problems online and ways to successfully overcome obstacles. The challenges are somewhat tricky, even for an adult, but the repetitive reminders of good digital citizenship are ingrained in your child’s mind by the time the games are completed. 

For families


Another game that reinforces healthy online habits is the bCyberwise Monster Family by Life Education Australia. The iOS and Android app is a lovely adventure into the digital struggles that many families encounter. From connecting a router, establishing secure passwords, making good choices with social posts and accessing online content safely to using respectful communication, the bCyberwise app is full of learning adventures. The playfulness and relatability of the characters make this a refreshing treasure, but good luck putting down your device.

For students and children


Using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Belouga platform was born to build a community for students worldwide (Belouga is intended for students and children, but parents can access the new portal coming this fall). The mission is to make learning accessible, impactful and equitable for all children through interactive collaboration content aligned to subject area, age, standards and the SDGs. The learning platform and community, active in over 120 countries, are fueled by a passion for innovation to help create a sustainable impact worldwide. 

After a year of scrambling to bring educational content to our children, Belouga began developing a parent portal, scheduled to release this fall. With a focus on providing parents the ability to guide, educate and engage in their children's learning, the new features were created by parent feedback. These features lean heavily on the social aspect of learning. Parents can create digital learning pods for their children while having full access to the content and creation assets. All content and learning experiences will continue to be tailored toward the child’s interest, age and core subject area. With the support of the parents, children are encouraged to build positive connections across the world, developing global citizens to make a significant difference in our communities both on and offline. 

Growing in digital literacy should move beyond the don’ts and progress into the do’s with the support of the caretakers. While many children will learn about digital citizenship in school, the real journey begins at home. Digital responsibility isn’t only about avoiding dangers but also about building vibrant, safe communities that, when equipped, can change the world. 

Get ongoing tips and expert advice about Parenting in a Digital World.

About the author:

As a former classroom teacher turned educational technologist, Jaime Donally has inspired innovative teaching strategies to schools and organizations around the world. Driven by her passion for augmented and virtual reality in education, she supports learners and ed-tech companies to effectively implement immersive technology in the classroom. Donally is the founder of ARVRinEDU and Global Maker Day.


The author has been compensated by Verizon for this article.

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