The world our children live in today is a far cry from the world we knew as children. Everything is much more interconnected now, thanks to mobile devices and the Internet. Of course there are threats to be concerned about, and there is much discussion of managing and avoiding those threats on the GDP site and elsewhere.
But the flip side of all this new connectedness is the fact that society has a new component that didn’t exist when we were kids – an online component. I was pleased to see that FOSI chose to feature “Digital Citizenship” this Fall, because I don’t think it gets nearly the attention it deserves. We are the first generation to raise children who have online access from the time they can walk, shouldn’t we be teaching them how to participate in an online society with respect for others?
I think this is the one concept to impress on your kids above all others. Two people talking in a room can say anything they want and there is no lasting record of what they said. Online, this is rarely the case. Typed words lack important visual and aural clues that humans are so good at reading – sarcasm in particular is always a problem for teenagers because the opposite meaning can be taken when the reader doesn’t have context.
Unlike real world, online conversations are not ephemeral .. they last forever. Even “private” methods like email and text messages . Our children need to understand that typed messages can be forwarded to people they never intended. That’s a huge difference from real life, where “he said, she said” carries much less weight than the actual text.
A good rule to give to your children is to only say things online that they would actually say in person.
Kids need to understand the lasting damage that can be done to others if they post secrets or photos against the wishes of others. Find a family photo that would likely be embarrassing if posted online and have your child imagine how they would feel if someone they didn’t know posted it to their friends.
Of course, bullying and shaming others are beyond the scope of “etiquette”. If your child participates in that sort of thing, there are resources available to help you correct it. Unfortunately, it is likely that sometime in during their school years, your child will see bullying happening to others. Schools are finally beginning to offer programs to stop bullying.
The old saying “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything” is a great thing to teach your children. The (faulty) perception of online anonymity gives negative posts and rants inertia when others chime in, often going far beyond the original intent. Would they say the same thing if the person was in the room with them? Usually the answer is no.
There are some great resources for parents to get younger kids started with good “netiquette” early. At AgeCheq, we created a free app for kids 5-12 with short animated video lessons on bullying, etiquette, and privacy. While it’s tempting for parents to try to isolate their children from online activities, I believe a better option is to give them a solid grounding in ‘digital citizenship’ and allow them to explore the online world with your oversight and guidance.