Teaching today’s children manners isn’t as simple as “please” and “thank you.” Ninety percent of American kids have an online history by the time they’re 2 years old, and almost 60 percent of kids ages 6 through 9 go online every day. The Internet and fancy cell phones pose new dangers to kids, but they also pose new ways for kids to flout society’s conventions. Learn what good manners you should teach your little techie.
- Learn about privacy settings. Social networking sites and online forums have plenty of settings, and you should learn them all. If you allow your child to sign up for Facebook or any other online community, walk her through the slew of options available. Who can see her photos? Who can send her a message? She should consider using a picture of something other than herself as her “profile photo,” the one that anyone can see.
- Choose your online identity carefully. For some online communities, it’s best to use a made-up screen name that doesn’t give any clues that reveal your kid’s identity. However, when children decide to communicate anonymously, they become less accountable. Teach your child to own whatever she writes online, whether using her own name or a screen name. If she wouldn’t post something under her own name, she shouldn’t post it at all.
- Imagine everyone can see what you write. Communications expert Susan P. Ascher says children often slip up because they write the wrong things online. “They think not everyone sees their posts,” she says. “They think if they say it online, it's not out loud, and somehow they will get away with it.” Even setting your child’s pages to private is no guarantee that her words won’t spread. Social networkers share what they see, and emails can spread virally like wildfire. “Nothing is ever deleted,” Ascher says. “It is always on someone's servers or email or Facebook or phone.”
- Only write something online you’d say in person. This is commonly called the “golden rule” of online etiquette. Following it saves everyone lots of trouble, yet it is violated time and again. Your kid is less likely to damage peer relationships, get in trouble at school, embarrass herself, or worst of all, make a mistake that affects her future, if she follows this rule. Make sure she knows it, and repeat it often.
- Limit “netspeak.” Ascher urges against adopting the “netspeak” and Internet acronyms that are prevalent, as these create bad habits. “We are becoming a society of people who can't spell, can't speak and can't add,” she says. What might fly among peers might be disrespectful to an adult family member. If your social media maven writes Facebook posts that would make her English teacher proud, she’s actually building skills that help her in school and in life. Imagine that!
- Don’t engage in flame wars. There’s nothing wrong with a spirited debate, but it’s important to teach your child to sign out if a conversation becomes too heated. Tempers can easily escalate when conversations unfold in real time, and no good can come from joining in. Encourage your child to vent any frustrations with you rather than continuing the debate online.
- It’s not always nice to share. Websites of all kinds have made it easy to “share” something with one simple click. This makes social networking more fun, but your child should resist the urge to share private messages or pictures. Even limited-privacy messages and pictures—those that are sent to a selected group of people—should be kept to herself. If someone sends something inappropriate to your kid, she shouldn’t join in the sharing frenzy that may follow.
- Don’t steal online. The Internet makes it easy to enjoy an unlimited supply of entertainment. One in five 11-year-olds say they regularly download music illegally. Video games, movies and TV shows are also easy to download illegally. Remind your child that obtaining entertainment through file sharing websites is stealing, and it’s punishable by fines or even jail time. Point your child toward free streaming websites and gaming platforms that play by the rules.
- Know when to log off. Social networks, instant message programs and texting make it easy for children to communicate with their loved ones, but it’s important that they know when to log off. Ascher says children must learn when it’s better to talk on the phone or face to face. “Ninety-three percent of what we communicate is nonverbal; it’s what we see,” she says. “And even a great video of me won't communicate the confidence of my handshake, my smile or how I enter a room.”
Teach your child these modern manners and feel confident that she’ll behave as well in the virtual world as she does in the physical one!