Technology has changed everything, including what it means to be a “good friend”. It used to be that being a good friend meant you sat together at lunch, passed notes to each other in class and sat on the phone talking for hours. Now you’re considered a good friend if you like every single photo shared on Instagram and send hourly updates via Snapchat.
This isn’t just a “teen thing” I can’t tell you how many times I get a message from my friend asking me to quickly log on to Instagram and like their photo. When I am scrolling through my feed, I automatically “like” everyone of my friends updates. I honestly can’t decide if I do this out of loyalty or if we are so close that I actually really like everything they post. I like to think it is that I genuinely enjoy their posts, but I have a feeling loyalty plays a factor.
But being a good friend in the digital age means so much more than just faithfully hitting like.
We spend a lot of time talking about cyberbullying and how to teach kids not to lash out and say cruel things to each other online. But usually those conversations are based on interactions between people who don't get along. It is equally as important that when we teach children about digital citizenship that we also talk to them about how they treat their friends online. They might think it is absurd to even question how they treat their friends, because well, they are their friends. Still, you need to talk with them because they could be mistreating their friends online without even realizing it.
Below are some guidelines to share with your child, to start the conversation about what they can do to better respect their friends online
Posting photos and videos- Only post photos that you think make your friends look good. Be sensitive to their insecurities (we all have them). Aside from physical appearance don’t post pictures of your friends doing something they shouldn’t be doing or something that they would be embarrassed for others to see. When in doubt wait till you have the chance to ask them before you post.
Removing posts and media- Of course your teen could look at a photo or video of a friend and think it is great and not see anything wrong with it. But turns out they hate it for whatever reason. If this happens take it down. Do not argue with them or defy them, just respect their wishes. Untagging them might not be enough, ask them what they would prefer.
Feeling left out- This isn’t really new, but technology has made it easier to accomplish. If everyone is going to the amusement park, but one of your friends can’t make it be sensitive to the amount of pictures you put online. Don’t tweet #bestdayever or say “glad I could be with all my besties today”. Before posting anything, consider how you would feel if the tables were turned.
Respecting boundaries and rules- Technology makes it really difficult to be out of contact with someone, especially our friends. While it may be fun or tempting to have an on going group chat or to video call your best friend and watch Netflix “together” remember that sometimes they might need a break from communication. Or, their parents might have rules in place that prevent them from being in constant communication. Do not make them feel guilty for not being available around the clock. Respect that they have their limits and that they deserve a break from being connected. Also talk with your teen about how they can express their own rules and limits to their friends.
Report bullying- If you notice your friend being bullied online, step up and say something. Sitting back and watching it happen is almost as bad as participating in it. Apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram provide you with great information on reporting and preventing bullying. Make sure you let your friends know they are not alone.
Respect their choices- Sometimes people need breaks from particular apps, there is no need to know the reason why they need to take the break, but there is a need to respect it. If a friend is trying to take a break from Snapchat or Facebook, respect their space and don't make them feel bad for abandoning the app. Don't keep sending them stuff and asking if they saw it or why they didn't respond. Let them know that you are open and happy to communicate with them in ways outside of the app.
In addition to the talking points above, make sure that you are being a good digital role model. As an adult I have been guilty of posting a photo of friends without even questioning it, only to be asked to take it down, while I saw nothing wrong with the photo, I removed it. I also asked my friend why it upset her to avoid having the situation reoccur in the future. No matter what age our friends are going to insecurities or reasons not want something about them shared online. We need to model good digital citizenship to children by following our own advice. Use your own experiences as examples to teach and guide your kids. Show them that learning how to respect their friends online isn’t just a grade school thing, but an ongoing life skill.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com