Teaching Teens Online Manners

Or how to bang your head against a wall

Teenagers have an uncanny ability to tune out their parents calling them for chores, but they can hear the blip of their phone’s text alert in the other room.

They develop sudden amnesia when homework is due but can follow a complicated digital conversation among eight people for hours.

Teach teens online manners before it matters.

Image courtesy of marin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Face to face communication is virtually nonexistent beyond bored monosyllabic replies, eye rolls and huge sighs of displeasure, however they can text three bubbles of coded talk answering six questions and making four observations in five seconds, with their thumbs, using such acronyms as IRL and ROFL.

They can’t tell you the main character’s name in David Copperfield, but they can quote entire scenes from a movie with near perfect tone, accent, and pitch.

Why look for alien life forms on other planets?  Scientists should just study teenagers.  That’s about as alien as it gets.

It would be rather easy to abandon a teen to his own world, but parents must stay involved.  While it is important for teens to have interaction beyond the family, they still have a lot to learn about social skills.  Social media may seem to have a new set of rules for communicating, but boundaries and manners never get old.

Boundaries are as important when communicating on social media as they are in person.

  • Institute time limits. A text or chat conversation shouldn’t go on endlessly. Give the teen a warning to wrap up the topic and find something offline to do for a while.
  • Establish no media zones. The dinner table, for instance, is sacrosanct.
  • Use curfews to avoid late night conversations. Nothing good happens past bedtime, particularly when it involves tired teens who might let fatigue affect their topics and word choices. I added a security rule to our router that blocks all electronic devices (except my backup computer) after 10 pm.
  • Set a maximum daily, weekly, or monthly media consumption. By limiting the amount of time or number of messages, teens will be forced to make their communication matter, rather than mindlessly texting one letter replies and silly emoticons. K 😉

Some things are meant to be private, so sharing it online is off limits.

  • Personal information is just that, personal. So, in an online setting where such information can be shared in many ways, never ever post details which may allow someone to pose as you or take over your online presence. Teens aren’t always good at thinking about what someone else might do with something as innocuous as their nickname, phone number, house address, or birthday.
  • Never assume your post or text is only seen by one person or a small group of people. Therefore, never publicly post exactly where you’re going to be at a certain day and time. Everyone has habits, but keep your routine to yourself. Always go running at 5:30 at the park? The world doesn’t need to know that.
  • Passwords are meant to be a gateway to your account to keep anyone but YOU out. Don’t share them. Change them frequently. Don’t use common knowledge words and numbers, such as your dog’s name combined with your telephone number. Way too obvious.
  • A friend’s confidence is meant to be kept confidential. Never share anything someone meant to be private, even by leaving out the name. Undoubtedly, someone will figure it out, and how embarrassing for everyone. This is also known as how to lose a friend in 140 characters or less.
  • In line at the bank to make a cash withdrawal of a few hundred dollars? Don’t check in. Seriously.

Manners matter, even online.  Teach teens to:

  • Know what acronyms and abbreviations mean and don’t use the ones you wouldn’t say in person. Using bad language doesn’t get a hall pass just because you didn’t “mean it like that.”
  • Make some attempt at using decent sentence structure and correct spelling. Full sentences may be unwieldy in a text message, but remind them that good communication means making sense.
  • Don’t say it in a text if you wouldn’t say it in person. Even nice kids get bravely aggressive online because they aren’t looking someone in the eye.
  • Online messages are forever. Someone might forget what you whisper in their ear, but an online message is carved in virtual stone, free to be shared, forwarded, reworded, and flamed.

Be the parent, even online.

  • Know your child’s online friends and make sure they are who they say they are. Daisy Duck could be a sabre tooth tiger IRL (in real life).
  • Check your child’s messages on occasion. This isn’t the equivalent of reading their diary. It’s protecting her identity and influences.
  • Set rules for when, how, and where to communicate. If she is at a group activity, she doesn’t need to text anyone. Live in the moment.
  • Make sure he understands that any contact from a parent trumps all else. Always answer, reply, or otherwise respond immediately, if not sooner.

There will always be differences between generations, though not as much as most kids like to think.  No, I didn’t have a cell phone when I was 12, but we didn’t write on stone tablets, either.  While lines of communication have changed drastically over the last decade, a parent can’t be so out of touch as to leave their teenager to fend for themselves.  It’s a jungle out there, and they need you to help them safely forge their own path.

What digital habits do you encourage and discourage in your teens?


This post is inspired by SingleHop, a leading global provider of hosted IT infrastructure and Cloud computing.  All that to say, they offer advanced Internet services, such as dedicated servers (a physical server entirely dedicated to you), Cloud servers (a virtual server you share with other users…your data would still be private, though), backups, security, e-commerce hosting, etc. SingleHop was founded in 2006 and manages more than 14,000 physical servers. They are a company on the move. If you are looking for the next step in managing your business computer network, check out SingleHop.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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