Responsible Social Media Use & Online Etiquette for Teens

This post is an excerpt from our Digital Citizenship Conference in Los Angeles. The conference was a rich environment for educators, law enforcement officers and parents to openly discuss issues and solutions for helping students shine in the digital world. All of the content from the Digital Citizenship Conference is available as a Virtual Replay Ticket.

Here are the experts who contributed to this blog:

Tim Martin

Tim Martin
Huntington Beach PD

Dolly Klock, MD

Dolly Klock, MD

Mary Tabata

Mary Tabata
Admissions Counselor
InGenius Prep

Nimisha Jain

Nimisha Jain
Trust & Safety

Caren Rich

Caren Rich, Psy.D.
Educational Consultant
Hayutin & Associates

Are our offline identities coherent with our online identities or are they two different personae?

Sometimes there is a bit of a disconnect between the online world and the “real” world. –Namisha Jain

As parents or educators, you probably wonder when you see teenagers who behave perfectly in the classroom, or at home, what would cause them to go online and say something kind of weird, kind of mean? I think it’s because sometimes there is a bit of a disconnect between the online world and the “real” world. Social etiquette has been established for many years in the “real” world but we all kind of had this online world thrust upon us in the past few years and we’re all coming up to speed at the same time. Whether you’re an educator or a toddler, you came into it at the same time. But as educators, the onus is on you to come up to speed faster than the toddler, and the teenager, and have some authority. Since everyone is a little bit new to the online world, it doesn’t, for everyone, seem as real – it seems abstract. And because it seems abstract, maybe we don’t use the same rules as we use the rest of our day. So, it matters to help kids, and adults sometimes, see that online is real, the people online are real people, and the internet is not something that lives in the cloud and the sky. Establish that and I think then all the interactions will feel more real and you’ll help kids have a consistent persona which is the goal and the best way forward. –Namisha Jain, Google

Parents should start to teach from a very early age, that the rules that apply in real life are the same rules that should apply online. –Dolly Klock

Parents should start to teach from a very early age, that the rules that apply in real life are the same rules that should apply online. So, if you are educating young children, and they are dealing with real life conflicts, use that concept of, “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” Ask those same questions about whatever you are posting. Show that it’s the same as the world. I think parents get very nervous because they feel out of control, that they don’t understand this world their kids are in, so they take their hands off the wheel, forgetting that they have this life experience to draw on. –Dolly Klock, Adolessons

You just have to engage in those conversations with your kids, you need to bring them back to your world, and listen to their world, and try to come to a happy medium and to get them to feel comfortable talking to you, I think that’s very important. –Tim Martin, Huntington Beach PD

Kids are sometimes not going to be able to learn from bad experiences until it’s too late. You have to share examples of things that have happened in the world so it can resonate with them, because they don’t listen to you when you say, “Turn this setting off”, or “Don’t do this”. One of those examples was a girl who was having a sweet sixteen. She didn’t realize that her invitation was open to the public and 3000 people showed up to her party, and it was awful. She posted it on social media, and it was meant to be for a closed group of people and it wasn’t. This brings back the idea that when you sit in front of a computer, it might be in your room or your living room but depending on what the setting is, it can be the equivalent of having a private chat in your house or a very public conversation in front of the entire world. This isn’t something that a teenager will always notice when they’re sitting alone in their bedroom but it’s important to make that distinction feel real and for this girl, it happened a little bit too late. So, you all know the kids in your life well enough to know what will connect with them, there are stories like this as I’m sure you’re aware. So spread them around and get them to see that it’s real and it happens. You might be the one to share them with them what went wrong for someone else, but try to do it in a way that’s funny so they’ll think it through next time. –Namisha Jain, Google

Even for real etiquette, and online etiquette for teens, there’s some degree of exploration and freedom required, right? You can monitor in areas where there’s a clear risk and sometimes that makes sense, but apart from that, I think just mentoring and being a good role model is really effective. So start early and creating contained spaces online. Maybe a family-only Facebook group or maybe it’s a text thread, something that shows you can digitally engage with people and have really positive interactions with them. I think that’s the best way to foster good etiquette and that’s the way we learn in real life. –Namisha Jain, Google

It’s really challenging as a parent to monitor because these online channels change so quickly. –Mary Tabata

It’s really challenging as a parent to monitor because these online channels change so quickly. Just like with Instagram, just like with Snapchat, which I never had but my kids have, and whatever the next thing that’s going to come. So, whatever the middle schoolers are using now, that will be the next thing. I think there’s definitely a challenge for parents to keep up because it’s not just Facebook and Instagram and e-mail and text. Stuff changes and it can change in two weeks. For me personally, there’s a really big challenge in terms of monitoring. I’m very active on social media so I hope I am also modeling what I want my kids to do and how to engage online. –Mary Tabata, InGenius Prep

So do you believe that there’s online etiquette for teens and online etiquette for parents?

That’s so true because I’ve seen parent behavior that’s worse than teenage behavior. Parents now have this window into the digital world. Adolescents are going to use foul language and say things to get a reaction. This is part of their age and we all did it. But we were in the park, we were in the mall. Parents weren’t there to overhear everything. Now they have this window in and if they see something bad, parents go bananas and start shaming the child and that’s a big problem. I think certainly very young children should be monitored, you should be sitting next to them with the computer looking at the screen. As they get older, I think different monitoring devices are fine. But as they as they become adolescents, I think we have to let out the leash. We have to realize the kinds of decisions they’re making in the real world are probably going to translate to their online life. So if you have a kid who’s very responsible, who is managing their time well and choosing their friends well and making good decisions, then this is a kid you could probably let the leash out in terms of their online life. If you are going to monitor them, I think it’s critical that you let them know. I’m totally against spying. I think it erodes trust and it drives the behavior underground. They’re going to find other ways to get onto these sites. Eventually, they are going to have to manage in this world as adults. We need to just realize they’re going to make some mistakes, sometimes it’s okay to let kids stumble, certainly there are risks involved, but that’s where the communication comes in and mentoring. You cannot monitor and then not mentor. –Dolly Klock, Adolessons

Can we talk about sexting? If a kid gets sent a sext, what should they do?

Delete it, then report it. –Tim Martin

The safe answer is to delete it. Delete it, then report it. Definitely, don’t pass it along. That’s where you take an innocent child, maybe a teenager, and the second they pass that picture along, they could have committed a felony in the state of California or in any state for that matter, it’s a very serious crime. That’s something every parent and teacher should be discussing, how critical that is. That it’s not just a moral and ethical issue, it’s also a criminal issue and they need to understand that. We get every variation. We get kids who pass it along, then it becomes a discussion in the school, then it becomes a big deal and the school gets involved and starts pulling kids in and it becomes a mess. We have kids that will go and immediately turn it over to the principal but that doesn’t happen very often or to the teacher or counselor but for the most part, they don’t do anything with it. They keep it and sometimes it goes away quick or sometimes they capture it. Sometimes they trade it and that’s how we find out about it most of the time when the picture is traded and sent out to someone else. –Tim Martin, Huntington Beach PD

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