We are social creatures, and now that our social circles are almost entirely digital, the mass migration of millions of voices, cultures, and values is starting to show up in both wonderful and not-so-wonderful ways. Our kids are watching it all unfold; absorbing what works and discarding what seems trifle or antiquated. The evidence of the good, the bad, and the dangerous is all around us, which serves as a reminder to teach our kids to bring some old school values into the ever-changing digital realm.
Five old school rules that still apply
1. Learn how to keep a secret. Your password is top secret. Your best friend’s secret crush is also private. That means that your child doesn’t share either with her friends, her boyfriend, or even a sibling. In an oversharing, chatty culture teaching our kids the importance of keeping secrets will keep both their digital privacy and friendships on track and secure.
2. Be a gracious guest. We’ve taught our children how to respect other people’s homes but have we taught them how to respect someone’s digital space? Let’s face it, open digital doors have made us all a little too comfortable and far less restrained in adding our two cents (positive or negative) to a real-time conversation. Recent examples of respect gone awry are in reports of permanent rifts caused by disagreements on Facebook over the last election. Remind kids (and adults) to be respectful of other people’s religious, political, and cultural differences. Learning to listen to others, consider contrary points of view, and exchange ideas respectfully without inciting is part of being a gracious guest on other people’s personal pages. Yes, adults could use extra coaching in this area as well — it’s never too late to learn the art of being a proper guest.
3. The power of please, thank you, and eye contact. Even in our one-click world, please, thank you, and face-to-face friendships matter now more than ever, in fact. Teach kids who love to abbreviate and use slang, that often a good old fashioned please and thank you helps build relationships that will outlast the digital space. Another lost art is the handwritten, thank you, birthday, or sympathy note sent via the beloved U.S. Postal System. It’s great to celebrate or express genuine messages online, but for the big milestones, especially a loss, there’s nothing more valuable to people than a physical, sincere note written outside of the very public digital space. Also, maintaining strong connections with a handful of real, loyal, face-to-face friends still outweighs hundreds of accumulated online friends. While your child may connect with hundreds of “friends” playing video games, snap chatting, or texting, nothing beats face-to-face conversation as a way to build and keep long-term relationships.
The face-in-phone culture has become the norm but don’t let that affect relationships. Remember, checking your phone while traveling or having coffee alone? Absolutely acceptable. However, checking your phone while your friend or family member is telling you a story? Just plain rude.
4. Modesty matters. Everyone (especially the youth culture) seems to be taking off more and more clothes online, and some reports claim that sexting among teens is becoming the feared norm. But don’t let cultural trends move the value lines in your home. Rather than teach right and wrong, explain the “why” behind the rules. Teach your kids why modesty matters and why, in a world of sameness, it’s more important than ever to stand out as modest, confident, and worthy of respect. This old school rule applies to both females and males, who also claim to feel increasing pressure to show off their six pack abs or post a million selfies. Be mindful to focus more on your child’s abilities, talents, and character than his or her appearance.
5. Walk on the messy side of the digital street. Just as we’ve (hopefully) taught our sons to walk on the outside of a female along a sidewalk, in the online world, it’s important to teach our kids to look out for others and be willing to take a few steps into the danger zone to protect someone else. Words hurt deeply and in the digital realm, words hurt gets multiplied, which can cause incredible damage to kids. Teaching kids to take up for, have empathy, and show consideration to someone who is vulnerable online, is an old school rule that will help stomp out bullying and echo the fact that we are all equal.