Have you ever heard of the term digital literacy? It’s one of those new phrases that keeps popping up in our digital world. Maybe it’s something your kid has mentioned that they’re learning about at school? Maybe you read an article that talked about it.

So what is it and should we be teaching it to our kids? We asked Dr Joanne Orlando, a family digital literacy expert and educator to help us out.

What is digital literacy?

Digital literacy is about understanding the type of content that is online and why people put it there.

“It’s about knowing an ad is an ad, knowing personal opinion is that or knowing what a news piece is. And understanding the impact of those types of content on your own thinking,” Joanne explained.

It’s important for us to understand online content in the 21st century so we don’t get manipulated by it.

According to Joanne: ”If you don’t know what an influencer is, if you don’t understand fake news, if you don’t understand scam emails that try to get your credit card details, it can lead to you not only being a victim financially but also you don’t know what the facts are about your world. Digital literacy is one of the most important skills we can teach our kids today.”

But my kid doesn’t have Instagram or a credit card! How am I going to teach that?

You might think your child is too young to understand digital literacy, but Joanne says even toddlers can learn a thing or two.

“Even two-year-olds are spending a couple of hours a day online on average so it’s starting very young. As they grow, if they’re not critically looking at what they see online, there’s the potential for them to have quite a twisted view of the world,” Joanne said.

So what should we do?

It’s all about starting at the very beginning. First, teach them to think about the television shows and online games they’re watching and playing.

For example, sit with them while they watch or play content and help them understand if there are ads.

“You can bring it to their attention in a way a two-year-old can understand. ‘That’s an ad, they’re trying to get you to buy something’,” she said.

It doesn’t have to be negative connotations either. If they’re watching Bananas in Pyjamas or The Wiggles on their Birde, it helps to have a conversation about what they’re watching.

“It really helps them to enhance the learning that they take from this good quality content. How they understand what the hosts are saying, how they understand the ideas are being presented to them.”

As kids get a bit older, it’s about having more complex conversations. Make sure you spend some time with them while they navigate the online world so they understand what pop up ads are or what people are really saying on social media.

“You don’t need to be online with your child every time they’re on there but it’s a good idea to play a game or do something with them regularly so it’s another opportunity to talk about this,” Joanne advised.

What’s next?

Following Joanne’s advice, I tried this out with my five-year-old. She was watching Paw Patrol and at the end, some ads came on. I asked her what she thought they were advertising and initially, she had no idea.

After a few ads though, she started to understand and it became a bit of a game. But all too quickly, the fun was over: “Ok, mum, can you stop now?” Guess it’ll be an ongoing conversation for next time!

Let us know how you go with your digital literacy conversation with your child!

PS if you want to know more about digital literacy and navigating the digital world with your child, Dr Joanne Orlando has a ‘TechClever’ course to help you do just that!