Cyber Manners: Teaching Kids Electronic Etiquette and Safe Online Behavior
When we bought our eldest daughter her first phone, she was nine years old and we were living overseas. I worried about her safety in the unpredictable foreign country we lived in and wanted to be able to immediately connect with her should anything questionable or potentially dangerous take place during her school day. The same occurred with her younger brother when he turned nine and rode the bus to and from school every day.
Fast forward roughly five years and many tech advances later — including thousands of new phone apps — and no longer are kids’ cell phones simply used to dial 9-1-1 in an emergency. Now, kids Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, GroupMe, Facebook, FaceTime, Twitter, text, email, and instant message one another on a daily basis.
While I have strict rules about appropriate behavior when speaking to other people in public, when those relationships move over into the digital, social media world, I don’t know if I’ve been so clear in my expectations.
I consulted with an expert to get his suggestions on how to teach our kids proper etiquette when connecting to the cyber world.
Scott Steinberg is a trends expert and futurist, and heads TechSavvy Global, which helps clients identify and adapt to emerging trends. He’s author of the book, “NETIQUETTE ESSENTIALS: New Rules for Minding Your Manners in a Digital World.”
Here is what Steinberg had to say in response to some of my most urgent questions:
1. Kids and social networks — what is safe/not safe for them to share?
First of all, Steinberg reminded that the internet is one of the “most public spaces available,” and said it’s important to “be considerate and thoughtful regarding your privacy and the privacy of others.” In other words, don’t put anything out there that you wouldn’t want to verbally say — or literally show — to the outside world. For example, don’t share embarrassing photos of others. Be respectful.
Certain personal info should neverbe shared with the outside world. Kids should be taught to never share their addresses, phone numbers, birthdates, names of schools they attend, or any other personal details.
Steinberg said something that did surprise me: kids should “keep their location data to a minimum.” In other words, they should avoid sharing information that pertains to location, such as favorite places to hang out, or future vacation spots. He suggested instead encouraging kids to post photos AFTER the trip, vacation, or activity rather than before or during. (This also helps by not exposing the fact that your house is currently unoccupied and/or unattended.)
He also warns that future potential job recruiters, college admissions officers, or employers may possibly see an applicant doing something goofy or disrespectful online that may not send the right message. This is especially important for teens to be aware of.
2. What are the “bad high-tech habits” and how do you stop them?
One of the worst habits is when someone is constantly checking a phone to see if anyone has texted, emailed, or messaged. This can be especially annoying when you are trying to get this person’s attention.
Steinberg suggested parents designate pre-set times that kids can use or connect devices. No matter when that allotted time is, though, homework should always take precedence, and all devices should be put away at family times, such as during dinner, and one hour before bedtime.
Another bad habit is when people are emotional and post quickly — and rashly — online. Help your kids to remember to think twice before posting anything, especially when caught up in the heat of the moment. Instead, take time to carefully deliberate how to respond.
3. What are the rules for kids when texting, messaging, and chatting with friends?
When we text or chat online with other people, the human touch is lost. Steinberg suggested adding an emoji or emoticon at the end of your message. This “aids in conveying a friendly tone or adds feeling or a slight nuance to your words.”
Also important: Teach kids to always check the spelling and grammar of text messages, chats or emails. This may sound like the reprimand of an English teacher, but it is a wise and helpful tip.
Another rule is for kids to avoid any type of inappropriate discussions or subject matter. Activities such as sexting are unacceptable and should never be practiced under any circumstances. Along similar lines, reiterated Steinberg, never text anything that you wouldn’t want to be made public.
4. Any more advice for parents?
“Take advantage of the parenting controls and filtering software,” Steinberg recommended. Even with every precaution, there is still a lot of junk on the internet and the potential for our kids to stumble upon it is almost inevitable.
“Teach your kids to be healthy skeptics, to be cautious within reason, and not to believe everything they read on the internet,” he advised.
When/if your kids do encounter questionable material on the internet, whether accidental or intentional, Steinberg suggested teaching themthat they can dialogue with you about what it is they saw or read … and we, as parents, should try not to freak out when they do tell us about it!
A lot of rules regarding safe use of the internet are “basic parenting at its best,” he said. “Prepare them (kids) for issues they may face and be there when they do encounter them.”
As a final tip, Steinberg gives the most important advice: “Don’t use your high-tech device to say things that are negative, inflammatory, or hurtful against others in this public space. The basic etiquette rules apply, even if we are one degree removed by that screen.”
Tracy D. DeStazio is a freelance writer and editor living in Biloxi. She’s been married to her high school sweetheart for 23 years and they have three children. She occasionally uses text messaging to remind her children to turn in their homework, to not miss the bus, and, of course, that she loves them. She may, however, possibly be the last human on Earth who is NOT on Facebook.