How to teach our kids (and ourselves) to behave online

While we do our best as parents to model and teach kids proper etiquette, social graces, and encourage overall good behavior, there seems to be some misconception among people today that once you are online, those rules no longer apply.  

If the word is in the dictionary, then it must be relevant and necessary, right?

Merriam-Webster defines Netiquette as:

rules about the proper and polite way to communicate with other people when you are using the Internet

One of the most valuable skills you can teach your kids today is how to handle themselves online. We spend plenty of time during their early childhood teaching and modeling basic proper behavior, ranging from table manners (“Don’t talk with your mouth full”) to rules on the playground (“Play nice," “Don’t hit," “Take turns”). We proudly and patiently nurture the development of these skills so eventually when they leave the house on their own, they can thrive knowing these basic tools of survival.  

The same applies to digital responsibility. As they grow up and venture online, our hope as parents is that social skills they've learned will carry over to their online behavior.

College administrators, future employers and even parents of potential boyfriends or girlfriends frequently use Google and snooping on social media profiles to check up on your little Johnny. So it’s important for Johnny, and all teens and tweens, to be cautious about what they are doing and what they share online.

Understanding the difference between “digital life” vs. “real life” is the key to appreciating the importance of Netiquette.   The screen on a phone or computer acts as a barrier in between these two worlds. It creates the ultimate force field for feelings and emotions. It’s often very easy to type something online that your teenager may not say in person.  Words can also be easily misconstrued when there isn’t a spoken voice heard behind it. Once words are written, they can’t be taken back. Even with deleting posts, what's read or seen sticks in people's minds and let's not forget about the ability to make screen captures.

Unfortunately, kids be judged by those written words and therein lies the problem. Learning the important skill of Netiquette, however, can help teens and tweens to avoid making embarrassing or troubling mistakes.

Here are some basic guidelines about Netiquette that are great to discuss with kids of all school levels.

  • Don’t say or post anything online that you wouldn’t do or say in person

  • Be cognizant of who is behind the screen on the other side. Exercise empathy.
  • If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say it at all. Just because you are behind a screen doesn't take the feelings away from the person on the other side.
  • Use proper grammar. People judge you by the way you write and speak. There’s no way around it.  
  • Keep a sense of modesty. If you’re not allowed to wear THAT in school, then don’t post a picture of yourself wearing it online.
  • Don’t perpetuate “bad news”. Words hurt. Share the good, not the bad.

How can parents monitor what their kids are doing online?

There are apps out there that help parents monitor anything from texts to emails, or even geolocating your child and knowing how fast they are driving. But to get a true pulse of whether your child exhibits good online behavior and decisions, you need to monitor their social media.

The DijiWise App is an all-in-one tool that captures a bird’s-eye view of what your child is posting on their social accounts. Monitoring the most popular social platforms among teens - Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, DijiWise allows you to view posts, likes, comments and more. See something that concerns you? Just save the post in-app  so you can discuss with your child or spouse later.  It’s that simple.

What do parents do when it's "too late?"

If your child is at the stage of getting ready to apply for college or future jobs, and you want to help them get a sense of how “clean” their social media record is, it's never fully too late to go back and "clean it up." There’s even an (online) app for that as well! The Social U is a platform that helps you connect, correct and continue to monitor online activity.

There are many perks of the World Wide Web. With the worries we carry day to day about our kids, their online behavior doesn't have to be one of them. With some guidance at home and engagement by parents online, it's never too late for our kids to put their best foot forward with a safe and mindful digital footprint.