Digital Character Traits


The Six Pillars of Digital Character (adapted from Josephson Institute, 2015)


  • I tell an adult when I see people using the Internet to hurt others

  • I can be trusted to protect and not share the identities, secrets, and ideas of people I know without their permission


  • I get permission from friends and peers before sharing things involving them online

  • I respect the opinions of others I interact with, even when I disagree with them.  I can disagree respectfully without being a troll.

  • I use technology to communicate with and gain a better understanding of people from different cultures


  • I take steps to protect my Personally Identifiable Information (PII), and never reveal the identities of people I know in real life.

  • I know how to create secure passwords for all of my online accounts

  • I always think before I post anything online.


  • I respect and give credit to the intellectual works of others.  I never take credit for what I don’t do myself.

  • I respect and do not illegally copy or steal the creative works of others.


  • I stay away from online bullying

  • I can use technology to make people’s lives better and show that I care.

  • I can use the Internet to connect with causes that I am passionate about and learn more about role models that I look up to.


  • I participate in forums, play games, and learn from others

  • I think critically about the content that I find online and whether it is true

  • I find balance between my online life and my offline life

Like it or not, access to digital devices and the Internet is a staple in our students’ lives.  Common Sense Media (2015) released a groundbreaking study examining the media consumption habits of teens (ages 13 to 18) and tweens (ages eight to 12) showing the extent to which this is the case.  They found that American tweens consume nearly six hours of “entertainment media” every day (p. 13); that number rises to just under nine hours for teens.  These figures do not include time using technology at school, or for homework at home.  Whether or not we supply a technologically-rich learning environment for students at school, they are immersed in it when they are not with us.

Not all media consumption is bad, to be sure, but problems can emerge with this amount of often-unsupervised consumption.  Children are inundated with advertising from many of these media sources; Riesman and Singal (2015) suggest that children view an average of 25,000 television advertisements every year until they turn 12, which is around the age when children become cognitively capable of examining these advertisements with a critical eye (and brain).  Children also have unprecedented levels of access to other people online, which leads to issues of bullying, predation, and compromised privacy.  Let us not forget the unparalleled levels of access to information and “content,” which, while allowing children new avenues of learning and exploration, can also expose them to misleading and/or age-inappropriate information and violent imagery.

These previous two paragraphs were intended to scare you, but let us not forget that “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral” (Kranzberg, 1986, p. 548).  Just as technology can be used to bully and hurt, technology also connects people with causes and passions that they care about, and people find new ways to use technology to create new scientific and medical breakthroughs on an almost-daily basis.  The emphasis should be as much on who is using it as it is on how it is being used.

How as a school can we focus more on what is such an integral part of our students’ lives?  How do we keep up with students who often bring more experience with technology into school than we do?  In this day and age, burying our heads in the sand is not an acceptable approach.  The answer, I believe, lies partly in our character traits.

For the last year or so, we have been working on instilling six character traits into our students:  trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship (Josephson Institute, 2015).  My attempt to make a difference in the digital lives of our students comes in linking behaviors and activities using technology with these character traits.  I’m calling them the “Six Pillars of Digital Character.”  Each of these pillars is accompanied with “I” statements of various demonstrations of each trait.  These traits are tied to several different sets of standards, including the Common Core State Standards for English/Language Arts, the Maine Learning Results standards for Social Studies and the Guiding Principles, the American Association of School Librarians’ Standards for the 21st Century Learner,  American School Counselor Association’s National Standards for Students, and the International Society for Technology in Education’s standards for students.  These standards reflect a cross section of standards utilized by our district as well as standards covering academic and non-academic areas, and standards for technology use.  Each section also includes examples of activities, apps, and websites that students can use to demonstrate these character traits, as well as lessons from Common Sense Media that you can use in your classroom to initiate conversations with your students on their technology use.  In this regard, the attitudes and actions described in each of the character traits can be described both positively and negatively; that is, the focus is both on what students should be doing with technology and on what students should not be doing with technology.

I hope you will take some time to take a look at some of these character traits.  Please talk to me if you have any questions, and let me know what you would like to schedule in your classroom.

I'd also appreciate your suggestions on improving the list. This list is certainly not final.


Common Sense Media.  (2015).  The Common Sense census:  Media use by teens and tweens.  Retrieved from

Josephson Institute.  (2015).  The six pillars of character.  Retrieved from

Riesman, A. & Singal, J.  (2015).  This is your brain on advertising: Why kids are so vulnerable to marketing.  Retrieved from