Have you ever:

Had that one friend who you’re afraid to take a picture with because they post anything on social media as long as *they* look good and have absolutely no regard for how other people might look in the photo?

Stood in line at a store and watched the customer put the salesperson on hold because their phone call was more important than the person in front of them?

Witnessed someone walking down a crowded street and knock someone over because they couldn’t take their eyes off their screen?

Had no choice but to listen to someone’s personal phone conversation and felt uncomfortable because the conversation was a little too personal and too loud?

Read someone’s passive-aggressive, attention-seeking post vaguely calling someone out who made them mad, and you couldn’t help but roll your eyes?

In our family technology contract template, we provide a list of rules and guidelines around technology use. These rules provide your children guidance, so that they develop a healthy relationship with their devices. But it's important to take it one step further and talk with your kids about etiquette. We teach our kids to say “please” and “thank you,” and hold the door open for others, and give up their seats to the elderly. We also need to teach them to be good digital citizens.

Here’s some things to discuss with your kids about digital etiquette.

Build a positive online persona. Be cautious of what you post. Racist, sexist, classist, ableist, anti-semitic, ageist, and homophobic statements and posts—even “jokes”—will haunt you for years to come. Celebrities and politicians are learning this the hard way. Colleges and future employers do check social media accounts, post wisely and be a person they would want to recruit or hire.

Don’t get lost in translation. Tone can impact how someone receives a message when communicating in person. Email and texts do not impart tone so be careful what you type. We all tend to insert our own tone into a written communication, and it can easily be misunderstood. If you have something important to discuss, pick up the phone or arrange a face-to-face meeting.

Ask before posting. Before posting a picture, ask if everyone in the picture is OK with it being posted. There are reasons they may not want you to: safety, appearance, etc. Don’t assume.

Be careful of knee-jerk reactions. If something triggers you or makes you upset, step away from your device before responding. Walk away and take a few deep breaths. Before reacting, ask yourself, “Am I going to need to apologize for this later?” If the answer is “yes,” you probably aren’t ready to respond.

Double-check yourself. Before you send a text or post something, ask yourself, “Would I be comfortable saying this to their face?” If the answer is “no,” don’t do it. Use the same concern and etiquette online as you would in person.

Don’t share news on someone else’s behalf. It’s nice to want to share your concern or send your best wishes, but let others share their news in their own way, in their own time. For example, if someone has passed away don’t post condolences until a family member shares the information on social media. Family and friends should be notified of important news personally and not via a social media post.

Don’t put people’s business on blast. Some things are best communicated in private. If you are aware someone is going through a rough time and want to send them an encouraging or inspirational thought, do so privately. (Better yet, call them!) Posting something to them opens them up to unwanted questions.

Don’t gossip. If you see something negative or unfounded posted about someone, or something that you think might hurt their feelings, don’t repeat it. Simple as that.

Criticize in private and praise in public. Don’t let disagreements with someone play out over social media. Take heated conversation offline or continue in a private message, especially if you are close or related. Better yet, it’s okay to just keep scrolling and not react at all!

I love passive-aggressive, attention-seeking, cryptic posts, said no one ever. When you are upset with someone, reach out to them personally, preferably in person. Leave it off social media. No one needs to see your business.

Keyboard warriors are cowards. Keyboard warriors—those who post angry, aggressive and provocative messages to cause arguments—are faceless and nameless, spewing hate and attacking others. Their satisfaction is only temporary. Find healthier ways to exert your power. Kindness feels better in the long term.

Wait until you get home. Don’t announce on social media when you’re out of town or away from home all evening. Thieves love it when people share that they aren’t home. Post your photos after you return and don’t tag yourself when no one is home. (This is more of a safety issue, but still important!)

When in public:

  • end a call when entering a store or when someone is trying to assist you
  • make eye contact with those speaking to you
  • take phone conversations outside
  • turn off or silence your phone in restaurants, movies and museums, etc.
  • pay attention to your surroundings, and watch where you’re going when walking

Do any of these hit a little close to home? Although this list is geared toward teaching our kids, proper online etiquette starts with us. Our children are watching. If we don’t take the time to treat others with respect and kindness, they won’t either. It’s not too late to make a change.

Have we forgotten anything? Let us know!

Cheryl Kosmerl, MSW, LCSW

Cheryl Kosmerl, MSW, LCSW

I'm a clinical social worker and child advocate. After more than 20 years of working with children and adolescents in a variety of settings I created Sexting Solutions, a successful program designed to teach kids to respect themselves and others, show empathy and stop abuse. Intended as an alternative to legal consequences for kids who were caught sexting, it focuses on building skills that develop a solid foundation for healthier adolescent years and beyond. Connect with me on LinkedIn by clicking the icon directly below.