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How to help your teen have an ethical online life

How to help your teen have an ethical online life

The online world offers us an insight into the very best and the very worst of our society. The web, social media and online news all act as a mirror to the world and because the internet is so big and we connect so quickly and easily it amplifies all of this in a way that we have never seen before.

This all has an impact on young people.

In many ways, today’s teenagers get a raw deal when it comes to technology. Adults can claim teens are “wasting time on technology”, but in fact most of the content they see or read or play is created by adults. The profits being made from their time online are being made by adults. And, when it comes to teaching them how to be kind online, how to act generously, how to stand up for others and demand less abuse, less anger, less vitriol online – the adult world is often silent.

While there are many programs on cyber bullying and respectful relationships in schools, parents should not underestimate the impact they have on helping their children and teens to live better and more ethical online lives. Here are some ideas about where to start.


Create space for the awkward conversations

Talking to our children about subjects like online sex or abuse can feel awkward and strange. It is our job as parents to help our children sit with the awkwardness. Start conversations with, “This will be weird, but I want to talk about…” And have the conversation. Stress it is never OK to be abusive towards another person – online or offline – let them know that you find the comment threads on many news sites (written by adults, by the way) to be toxic and abusive.

Tell your young person that watching porn is to be a part of the exploitation that comes with many aspects of that industry. Talk to your young person about the importance of being respectful and kind online and offline – use the mantra, “if you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all”. It is quaint, but couldn’t we do with more of it in our world?


Model your values on and offline

Model the behaviours you want your child to see in the way you engage and interact online, even if they don’t see your private social media stream. Stand up for others, call out sexism and racism, be generous and kind and be part of a group of adults that makes the internet a better place for our children to inhabit.


Help your child create a code for how they will use social media

Sit with your child – perhaps when they first ask to go on social media – and create a list of three to five statements about how they will act and behave when using social media. It could be something like:

  • I will not use abusive language on social media
  • I will think before I post a comment that has made me angry
  • I will say one kind thing a day to someone on social media
  • I will call out others who are unkind or mean to others on social media
  • I will not use foul language on social media.

Help them see that they can be deliberate and purposeful and hold themselves to account for how they act and behave – online and offline. The list doesn’t have to be long, but print it out and stick it on the fridge or the back of the toilet door. We need to be reminded sometimes about what we value and how we want to act. In the heat of an online reaction, we can forget it too easily.