What to Teach Kids Instead of Digital Etiquette
Encourage kids to live up to high standards online and offline
Remember when online etiquette was called “netiquette”? Now it’s called “digital etiquette.” But to the thousands of students we work with around the country, it’s just plain etiquette. To them, there’s little difference between what happens online and what happens offline.
As terminology evolves to keep up with technology, so does the meaning behind it. It’s impossible for parents to teach what was once understood as “etiquette” across every new device, platform and situation. What constitutes etiquette has had to evolve. Today, it means being thoughtful and authentic, however that looks to you. That’s why, instead of teaching students traditional etiquette, our team at The Social Institute encourages kids to live up to high standards online and offline, knowing that thoughtful and authentic communication will follow.
What to Learn Instead of Rules
There are subtle but important differences between standards and rules. The former are ways of living; the latter are specific do’s and don’ts. Rules must change as followers mature, but standards are expectations of ongoing behavior that do not change with age or experience. You follow rules but live by standards. At The Social Institute, we developed the following social standards for positive social media use.
1. Protect your privacy like you’re famous. Ever notice that Taylor Swift doesn’t share photos of her driver’s license? Or that Beyoncé doesn’t add her geolocation to her Instagram posts? When using social media, follow their example and pretend you’re wildly famous.
Avoid sharing private information in your platform biography, posts, comments and captions, and keep your location to yourself. Make sure your photos are showing only what you don’t mind the world knowing about. For example, don’t post photos that show information such as your address, school or license plate number.
2. Play to your core. Steph Curry says the best person you can be is the best version of yourself. That’s who you should strive to be every time you post, comment, like or share something on social media. And do it for yourself — not the likes you may get from others.
3. Cyberback others. Rather than focus on cyberbullying, encourage “cyberbacking” — having each other’s backs online. Stick up for others when they’re bullied, online or off. Encourage and celebrate others’ successes. And create a culture of safety at home, school and beyond by speaking up when you see potentially threatening or dangerous posts or comments.
4. Strike a balance. Emphasize offline priorities: homework, chores, downtime with family and friends, time outside, even a conversation with a teacher in the hall. You’ll know when you’re striking a balance because you’ll automatically look up when people talk to you. You’ll begin to value real-life moments as they’re happening instead of waiting for real-time recognition from social media followers.
5. Build a strong team. Surround yourself with positive role models who support, encourage and challenge you to play to your core. This means staying away from anonymous platforms, where you’re easily connected with strangers. It means unfollowing and unfriending people who make you doubt yourself and blocking those who send you stuff you don’t need to see. And don’t forget news sources — they’re part of your team, too. Learn how to spot fake news and surround yourself with credible sources.
Together, we can live up to high standards — online and offline — and help our kids do the same. Social media is how kids socialize today, and they need help — ours and each other’s — to be the best version of themselves they can be, to navigate the hard stuff and celebrate the good stuff, and to rebound when they make mistakes. When we live up to high standards, what was once called “digital etiquette” will automatically follow.
Laura Tierney is founder and president of The Social Institute, which offers students positive ways to handle one of the biggest drivers of their social development: social media. She also recently became a mom. Learn more at thesocialinstitute.com.