Good Old-Fashioned Parenting vs. Online Parenting: More Overlap than You Think

June 6, 2024

Ask any parent – is there anything more important than raising good children?  For generations, this has been THE top priority for parents.  Watching children grow into productive, positive, well-adjusted members of society – that’s a good thing. It’s the “how to get there?” that, at times, stumps us. Kids (and by extension, parents) are busier than ever.  Homework, sports, travel teams, music lessons, art, drama, dance, even volunteer work . . . schedules are full!  In addition to all of this, our kids have a NEED to keep up with social media, online gaming, Snapstreaks, texts, and the latest technology trends. Yes, we want to raise good kids. We want to teach important life lessons. In the online realm, we parents are often learning as we go – and behind the curve of our tech-savvy kids.  

So, is this online parenting a whole new category? Yet another item to add to the list? I would argue that if we are doing a good job of teaching our kids the basics of social decency, much of this will carry over into their online lives. 

Let’s go back to the basics . . .

Be Kind

Treat others the way you want to be treated. If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.  If you hurt someone, say you’re sorry - and don’t do it again.  There is tremendous power in the words “I’m sorry” and in forgiveness. With online interactions, such as text messages, online posts, and comments, there is a permanency that does not exist in face-to-face interactions. Additionally, the context is missing – often, you can’t see facial expressions, hear tone of voice, or sense a “private” joke.  However, if we apply some of the basic tenets of kindness to our online actions, the environment would be a better place. You think of a witty (albeit snarky) or unkind comment to a friend’s post or picture? Resist. You find that it’s too late and you’ve hurt someone?  Apologize, and don’t do it again. Maybe you didn’t mean it the way it was interpreted. Have a conversation, a real (not online) one. More often than not, this will bring about a resolution. Therein lies kindness.

Work Hard

Set goals. Commit to something. Put in the effort. Where blood, sweat and tears produce a sought-after accomplishment, there is great value. There are lessons learned from failing, making mistakes but then changing course and redirecting efforts all in the name of reaching a goal.  From this process, resiliency emerges. Confidence is born. Don’t take the easy way out. AI and other “quick fix” search tools have given us tremendous opportunities for vast and efficient access to information. These should be viewed as additions to, not replacements for, critical thinking and creativity. That great sense of achievement that comes from setting a goal, working hard, and earning the desired result cannot be given away, nor can it sprout from instant gratification, a virtual “like” or a record-high “streak.” Let’s stand back and watch our children stand a bit taller and feel the true sense of accomplishment that comes from working hard to reach a desired result.

Tell the Truth

Sounds simple, right? From a very young age, we strive to teach our kids the basic difference between telling the truth and telling a lie.  Integrity starts with this premise.  It can take years to develop a reputation as trustworthy, and only one lie to tarnish it. Additionally, the path back to restoring that reputation can be far more arduous than the road to its unravelling. It can be tempting to hide behind the perceived protection of a phone or computer screen and post something untrue. After all, what we see online is not always truthful or accurate. How about we start with authenticity? Ditch the idea of posting perfection. We all know that’s not real. Increasingly, our kids are bombarded with unrealistic, unauthentic images and ideas. This perpetuates untruthfulness. Talking about this with children at an early age can help shape their online perceptions as they grow and as their online activities increase. 

Be Thoughtful

Think before you act. Think before you speak. Be deliberate and outward about thoughtfulness. Recognize we don’t all come from the same place. Be open to ideas that are different than yours. Remain curious. Be accepting. If you see someone in need of help, help them. Look for opportunities to be inclusive. If you see someone eating lunch alone, invite them to sit with you. Thoughtfulness online can play out in many ways. Think before you post. Think before you comment. Ask yourself “will I hurt someone with this post or comment?” If the answer is yes, or even maybe – stop yourself. On social media, teens are repeatedly witness to activities they were NOT included in. It’s right there when they open their phone, staring at them – the smiling faces of friends (or so-called friends) out having what appears to be the time of their lives. Some of that is just life. It goes without saying that not everyone is going to be invited everywhere. However, being thoughtful could mean instead of posting a picture, you share it among only those who participated in the activity. We seem to live in a world now where many feel the need to prove their social lives. Everyone does not need to know what you are doing all the time!  My Irish grandma used to tell me, “You don’t need to be seen everywhere. Leave a bit o’ mystery about yourself.”

The core truth is that the essence of parenting does not change when we seek to parent in the online world. Much of online parenting is simply an extension of the values we are already teaching our children. So, let’s focus on fine tuning the basic principles of kindness, hard work, truthfulness, and thoughtfulness. Finally - let your kids see you emulating these basic character traits.  In the end, how we act will always be more powerful than what we say.

For parents who are overwhelmed by the idea of digital parenting, there are resources that provide guidance on many online safety topics. For help with popular social media apps, check out Common Sense Media’s Parents' Ultimate Guide to Snapchat and Parents' Ultimate Guide to Instagram. See Common Sense Media’s full list of app ratings to learn more about the apps your kids may be curious about. For support in talking to your children about their digital reputation, visit FOSI’s Digital Reputation Guide and the Seven Steps to Good Digital Parenting.

Written by

Annie Gaughan

Annie is an attorney who has worked as inside counsel at America Online where she helped bring the company in compliance with the original COPPA legislation. More recently, she has worked as the Director of Business Development at Cyber Safety Consulting, where she helped create and deliver online safety education and training to middle school and high school students, as well as parents and teachers. As a mom of 4, she has a deep passion for keeping kids safe online and coaching parents to be their kids’ primary educator in this realm.