7 Rules to Teach Kids Online Etiquette

Courtesy counts online, too. By Caroline Knorr
Topics: Screen Time
7 Rules to Teach Kids Online Etiquette

Teaching Kids Online Manners

Lots of kids -- and alas, adults -- treat the Internet like an anything-goes no-man's land. That can be part of the fun -- within reason.

But when people choose aggressively meanspirited screen names, make spiteful comments, hide behind anonymity to be cruel, send around photos to humiliate others, or just act in a way that would be considered rude in the real world, it creates an environment that doesn't allow kids to experience the best of what the Web has to offer. The negativity can actually hurt people and harm reputations. 

Here are some guidelines to make it a little more civil.

7 Rules for Online Etiquette

Context is everything. If kids want to have silly online names that conform to the convention of a particular online community and only their friends will see, fine. But for more formal communication -- like email addresses, posting comments, or anything to do with school -- have them choose a respectable screen name (though not their real name) that they wouldn't be embarrassed to utter out loud in front of, say, their grandmother.

Double-check before you hit "send." Could something you wrote be misinterpreted? Is it so littered with slang that it requires a Ph.D. in Urban Dictionary to be understood? Is it rude, mean, or sarcastic? Don't send it.

Take the high road (but don't boast about it). Chatting, texting, and status updates are all "in-the-moment" communication. But if there's an escalating sense of rudeness, sign off. No good will come of firing off a nasty comment. You can always write out a response to get something off your chest ... without sending it.

Grammar rules. Rumors of grammar's demise have been greatly exaggerated. But again, context is key. An IM to a friend can dangle as many participles as you want, but anything more formal -- for example, a public online comment or a note to a teacher -- should represent your best self. This applies to capital letters, too. By now, everyone knows that writing in all caps means that you're shouting, but it bears repeating once your kid starts interacting online.

Keep a secret. In today's world, photos, texts, and videos can be posted, copied, forwarded, downloaded, and Photoshopped in the blink of an eye. If you think something might embarrass someone, get them in trouble, compromise their privacy, or stir up drama of any kind, keep it to yourself -- and maybe delete it for good measure.

Don't hide. For safety's sake, kids should use untraceable screen names, but using anonymity to cloak your actions can poison the atmosphere -- and hurt people. If your kids want to be contributing members of the online world, encourage them to post productively.

Remember the Golden Rule. Don't say something online that you wouldn't say to someone's face. And, according to BeyondNetiquette creator Marla Rosner, author of Digital Manners and House Rules for Kids: A Parent Handbook, you can actually take that a step further. If you do have something negative to say, discussing it in person is a better way to resolve your issues.


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About Caroline Knorr

As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for…?"... Read more
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