6 Digital Manners to Teach Your Kids Now
"Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” — Emily Post
It might seem like kids are born knowing how to connect online—but can they do so politely and safely? Like anything else, they need instruction and reinforcement to learn appropriate behavior.
Etiquette expert Jodi Smith of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting and Katie Waite, English teacher and parenting blogger at Comomedy.com, know about the special demands of teaching this critical skill. Here's what they suggest:
1. Accept that this is part of your job.
"Do not presume school is going to handle this topic," Smith cautions. While many classrooms do touch on this, it's a mistake to think that it is taken care of and doesn't need to be addressed on your end.
2. Explain the drawbacks of online communication.
Smith uses the example of old-fashioned note-passing. "Back in the day, it would be uber-embarrassing for a teacher to snag a note you were passing to a friend in class," she says. "It is important to understand that now, messages intended for just a friend or two can easily be forwarded or screen-shot to share beyond anything you could imagine."
3. Point out that personal contact matters.
Waite recommends always addressing people by name. "It's a sign of respect and it shows that you are paying attention," she says.
4. Teach that 'delete' doesn't mean 'erase.'
Homework that's shoved in the bottom of a backpack isn't visible— but it's not gone. Similarly, deleting doesn't erase online content. "Removing something from a post, timeline, wall, or account does not mean it has been removed from the internet," Smith says. Remind kids that once something is online, it can always be found again. Think before posting or sending, especially when emotional.
5. Talk about communication zones.
Those zones include public, kind of public, and private. Public is something you'd say to anyone—you wouldn't mind if it was repeated in front of your school or on TV. Kind of public is what you'd share with teachers, friends, or others you trust—it's okay for a limited group to know. Private is something you'd only say to close family or a diary. Anything that's not in the public zone should be kept offline.
6. Remind them that tone can be misread online.
Say "Hi, how are you?" a few different ways: concerned, cheerful, surprised—all the same words, but different meanings. Tone is easily lost online and over text, causing misunderstanding. Waite believes emojis can clarify meaning and emotion, but face-to-face communication is best for an important conversation. "If you wouldn't like to receive the information over a text, the other person probably won't either," she says.
Keeping a close eye on communication will help identify more direction is needed—and avoid the kind of online blunders that can lead to problems now and in the future.