Every day, we seem to hear new stories about online bullying, verbal abuse, and other breaches of good behavior on the web. And, while no-one wants to censor internet users or compromise digital freedom, most of us would admit that we’d like people to behave better online.
This generation may be a lost cause, but there’s no reason why we can’t teach our children the ABCs of online etiquette. That way, we stand a chance of heading off state intervention and ensuring that the net is a safe, productive, enjoyable place to be.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled a quick checklist of how to teach netiquette to young users. Kids are receptive to ethical ideas, and they don’t want to live in a world of conflict. So give these ideas a try. If we all teach our children, it could save a lot of trouble further down the line.
- Real world morals transfer seamlessly to the web
First off, make it clear to your children that the behavior you expect from them offline applies just as much to social media, gaming chatrooms, and comments pages on websites. The internet isn’t a play space where youngsters can let off steam by insulting each other. It’s a natural extension of society, and the same behavioral norms should apply there.
This means encouraging them to be polite and courteous at all times – including in their Twitter interactions. It also means using the same style of language they would use with strangers in stores or on the street.
For some reason, kids quickly adopt very different ways of communicating online, and this can lead to all sorts of confrontational situations where good behaviour breaks down.
Make sure your kids know what is cybersecurity from an early age
It’s also really important to teach your kids the do’s and don’ts of hacking and online security. If your children take naturally to coding and networking (and why wouldn’t they?), there’s a strong chance they will mix with hacking communities.
And that’s fine. Digital security is a growing economic sector, and it’s fascinating for young people. But it needs to be approached carefully.
Make sure your kids know the harm that malicious hacking can cause, from the pain caused by ransomware attacks, to business failure or healthcare shutdowns. And be sure to run through what is cybersecurity as well.
With a solid grasp of cybersecurity, your children won’t just feel less keen to get involved in malicious online activities. They will also be able to protect themselves online. So introduce them to strong passwords and Virtual Private Networks.
Don’t give them strict prescriptions about how to stay safe, or what tech communities to join. But make them aware that their decisions matter. If they can arrive at a personal moral understanding of online security, it’s much better than being confined by parental rules.
- Stress the dangers of being too open with online contacts
On a related note, it’s really important to teach children how much of their lives should be shared online. This is an area parents often fail to understand. Instead of just arranging meetups with friends or scheduling gigs, young people often use the web to work through their personal lives in astonishing detail.
This can be therapeutic, but it’s also very risky. For example, there’s the obvious risk attached to “stranger danger” when dangerous people latch onto vulnerable youngsters. Kids need to know when it’s not OK to pour their hearts out to seemingly sympathetic strangers online.
And identity theft is also a big concern. The contact who seems to be a shoulder to cry on can often be collecting information for in-depth profiles which can be used for banking frauds and other crimes. So there are plenty of good reasons to teach kids about why they should think twice before using the web as a confessional booth.
- Make sure they respect creators
The web is also a place where images, videos, games, music, and ideas fly around – without attribution being given to their creators. We’re all familiar with this phenomenon, whether we download P2P movies, or “borrow” content for blogs from other creators.
To some extent, it’s fine to tap into the online commons. We all influence each other, and information needs to be free to level up our general understanding. But there has to be a saturation point.
If you’ve ever tried to run a YouTube channel, you’ll be aware of how frustrating it is when people steal your content and repackage it as their own. Or when great Tweets appear in exactly the same wording from a larger account.
Hopefully, parents can encourage children to have more respect for their fellow creators than this generation. They don’t need to become zealots for copyright protections, but good etiquette demands recognition for the creators who produce the content we love.
Stay safe, stay polite, and make the web thrive in the future
There’s much more to say about the way people behave online, but the key thing here is teaching your children. That doesn’t mean adopting a severe, strict attitude. It means engaging with them to discuss things like what is cybersecurity, or how to share their lives safely. But it can be done. And with a little sensitive parenting, we can make the web a kinder, better place to work, interact, and be ourselves.