Net Etiquette for Parents

A friend was narrating an incident with me that had occurred in her house about her 13 year old continually texting while having dinner. Despite repeated requests which progressively grew sterner; the teen took a peek now and then at her phone kept by her plate, oblivious to the conversation around her. Frustrated by her defiance, her Dad picked up the phone and threw it away. The enraged child shouted, “What’s wrong with my texting while eating when you do it yourself? It’s OK for you to reply to your messages but not for me?”

Don’t confuse your socializing with my work. My messages are important.”

And mine aren’t?” With that she stomped off to her room.

My friend was relating her woes on having a rebellious teen at home but its apparent to a third party that there is another vital message hidden here.

Practice what you preach.

If you do not want your kids to pick up the bad manners of texting while in company or at the dinner table, set an example for them to emulate. Refrain from doing it yourself.

Being a parent involves a lot of sacrifice, one of which is to modify your own behavior, so that your children automatically learn good manners from childhood. The amount of time we spend online has necessitated that we know and observe good manners online. There is a proper way to conduct yourself in the virtual world, with a set of Dos and DON’Ts. The aggregate of these is called Internet etiquette- which gives us our social code of the internet.

I strongly believe that just as we teach kids good hygiene and table manners, it’s our duty to teach them good net etiquette. Good manners are universally admired and win brownie points, plus they will go a long way in keeping kids safe online.

Here are some tips on what constitute net etiquette:

  • Read the T&Cs carefully when you sign up on a forum or networking sites. Some sites don’t allow sharing of content. You must respect their policies
  • Be a positive contributor to the sites you sign up on. Do not drive negative comments.
  • Handle issues in a mature manner. Don’t be instigated by others to indulge in rudeness or get caught up in a war of words. It will do nothing to assuage your anger or salvage your ego but would instead provide entertainment to the public.
  • Check before you hit ‘send’. Thoroughly read your e-mail and check for spelling errors, correct email id, obscurities in language and the signature used.
  • Be on your best behavior online, you are with strangers. Remember body language plays no role here and so you will be judged by your words alone. Be controlled in your choice of words.
  • Be diplomatic and do not show attitude. So don’t be rude, offensive, argumentative or condescending. If you have any ire, comment on it generally.
  • Generally stay off subjects that may spark off debates on sensitive issues, unless the people involved are personally known to you
  • Don’t write in caps, it is akin to shouting in real life
  • It is extremely offensive to your friends to have you sharing their personal information with others without their prior consent
  • Same goes for tagging in photos shared online
  • Don’t you hate it when you get forwards that have long list of addresses or mail trails attached? This is another no-no
  • Let celebs be. Don’t harass them with friend requests, for that’s unlikely to happen. Join their fan page, if you want
  • Honesty is the best policy. Do not lie about your age, qualifications or interests online for there can be consequences you never expected. Also stick to facts else you might  be charged with fact-falsifying or spreading rumours
  • When people you are not close to are having a conversation, don’t force yourself on them, unless you have something of significance to contribute
  • Don’t help spread Spam by clicking on accompanying links.

The long and short of it is STOP.THINK.CONNECT. Remember this and you will be a model netizen.

Let us each be a practitioner of net etiquette. We owe that to our kids.

Child online – what every mom should be aware of

Till the age of 10, a child lives in an idyllic world of his own creation, where only his games and parents are often enough to keep him blissfully happy. But come the tweens and teens, there is a sea-change in his attitude to life. Suddenly the child is besieged with hitherto unknown emotions, ideas and needs. And he also feels this urge to discover new people, places, and interests. And this leads him to explore the world beyond his ken.

Is there a specific kind of child who seeks friendship with strangers online? The answer is NO. The daring and adventurous child looks for excitement and connects with people who hold their interest. The aggressive child is also interested in learning more about other kids and peer sentiments and so visit networking sites. The timid kid, who doesn’t desire any adventure often desire new friends whose wavelength would match their own and who would not bully or demean them. The neglected, lonely child craves for attention and looks for it online.

The cyber world offers such kids the opportunity to meet interesting and exciting people who excite their imagination. And children, including teens, are not always far-sighted or experienced enough to separate the grain from the chaff; the genuine people online from the cyber crooks and predators.

So how can strangers connect to your children online?

  • Through chat rooms like Chatroulette, TinyChatnext
  • Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, You-Tube, Flickr, FourSquare
  • Messaging Apps like WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram,Whisper, SnapChat
  • Gaming Apps and devices, like PSP, XBOX
  • Emails and text messages

Not all strangers are bad, but then how does one determine that in the virtual world where even the identity shared may not be true?  With the fear of cyber crooks, hackers and predators present, it is indeed necessary that we know how to keep our children safe when they go online. And NO, banning Internet at home is not the answer because they will simply access it elsewhere.

You can instead:

Communicate: All the time, anytime, talk to your kids. It can be about anything, but the intention should be to keep communication channels open, share and listen

Listen: We often do not pay full attention to what kids are saying and answer their series of queries with an absent-minded “Hmm?” This sends the wrong signal that you aren’t interested in knowing about his life and will effectively shut him up.

Use security software: On all devices-including every laptop, tablet and smartphone in the house. Keep parental controls turned on. Disable webcams and chatrooms. I strongly recommend McAfee Total Protection. Just try it!

Family time: Express your love for your child all the time, even after you have chastised him. Set aside time for activities that your whole family loves doing. Spend time online with kids, playing games, checking out new devices, watching You-Tube videos of interest

Make Social media usage rules: the whole family should abide by them. Prohibit children from sending out friend request to strangers or accepting their friendship without your consent. Restrict social media access time and device. It’s advisable not to allow kids the privilege of accessing internet on their phones till they are mature enough to do the right thing. There should be penalties for breach of rules.

  • Monitor: yes you can and should, just the way you do in real life. Be especially vigilant if child changes screen when someone enters the room, wipes browser history, surfs incognito
  • Share and discuss: Everyone should share, say at the dinner table, if they have received a new friend request, inappropriate message, picture etc. and then the whole family should discuss how to handle it. Share stories about predators, ask children if their friends have faced similar issues
  • Say NO: you are the parent and so you have every right to say no when the occasion demands. But do so firmly but lovingly. You are the parent first and their safety is your concern. Children know that, even if they rebel against it

 This is what you should teach your child when they start online socializing: STOP. THINK. CONNECT

Being a parent is a difficult task, and the net has made it a wee bit more complicated. As Cybermum, my advice to you would be, be there for your child and keep an eye on his friends, online activities and change in behaviour. Do this till the child is mature and responsible enough to surf responsibly.