If you have kids, they’re probably online. According to a 2015 study by Pew Research Center, 71% of teens use more than one social network site. That’s a huge number, and it means that young people across the world are actively making decisions on the Web that could affect their online reputations.
That number also means that children are being exposed to a cyberworld with little law and even less order. Online, people freely attack and slander each other anonymously. Cyberbullies use social media websites to launch attacks 24 hours a day, and private information, including Social Security numbers and a variety of other compromising data, is shared for just pennies.
That’s why we’ve prepared these tips for parents, to help you teach your child how to become a responsible—and safe—digital citizen.
1. Remember the “Golden Rule”
On the Internet, people hide behind a veil of anonymity to attack, slander and discredit people they don’t like. Sometimes, these online bullies pick someone at random for fun. With social media networks and blogs, it’s easy to find a stranger to pick on. When you talk to your children about using the Internet and social media, remind them that just because somebody is a stranger, they should still treat that person with respect.
The traditional “Golden Rule” is as true online as it is in real life: Treat people the way you hope to be treated. Teach your children that there’s no place for name-calling on the Web, and let them know that it’s OK to report abusive behavior. Even though other people don’t use manners online, your child doesn’t have to be one of them.
2. Don’t spread gossip
If you thought gossip spread quickly when you were in school, false information and rumors circulate even faster online today. Thanks to websites like Twitter, breaking news can reach millions of people within seconds. In some cases, this is a good thing. Social media users are among the first to learn about important events and news. When the news is false, however, the speed of social media spells trouble.
Make sure your children know how to discern whether information online is true or false, and teach them to be skeptical of what they read online. Let your child know that passing on false information is as bad as telling a lie, even if your son or daughter did so unknowingly. Gossip can destroy a person’s reputation, and it isn’t something you should take lightly. Help your child become a responsible digital citizen by following this tip.
3. Keep private information private
Some companies focus their entire business model on scraping social networking websites for personal information and then compiling it to sell to marketers or (more frighteningly) identity thieves. That’s why private information online should stay private.
Teach your children that responsible digital citizens don’t share private information on Facebook or anywhere else. Remind them that the information they share online not only affects them but the entire family.
4. Stand up and speak out against cyberbullying
If your children saw a student at their school getting teased or bullied on the playground, would they say something to a teacher? Hopefully, the answer is yes. The same rule should apply online.
Cyberbullying has become one of the most pervasive problems facing kids and teens online today. For adults, it can be hard to see when cyberbullying is happening. Kids are more likely to see the abuse because it’s happening within their social network. Teach your children that if they see cyberbullying occurring on Facebook or anywhere else online, they should tell you or a member of the school faculty.
5. Think about the future
Good digital citizens think about what they do before they do it. The things your child shares online are like digital tattoos—they’re there forever. If you teach your children to think about the future, and how admissions officers, employers, and even future romantic partners might view their online reputation, they will more likely make the right kind of decisions online and make the Web a better place for all of us. Help your child become a responsible digital citizen.