We’re always telling children that sticks and stones may break their bones but words can never hurt them. The reality is, though, that words can do a great deal of damage, and that’s certainly the case on the internet. It’s important for children – and parents – to understand that online manners are just as important as those in real life.
Online precautions for parents need to include developing an awareness of how the online world works. It’s easy for us to dehumanize people we only get to know through words, which is partly why the internet can be dangerous – it’s much easier to be aggressive towards someone you don’t think of as a real person.
This cuts both ways for children who are learning how to conduct themselves online at the same time as they learn how to conduct themselves in the wider world. Children online need to learn how to manage their behavior towards others and what kind of behavior they should accept from others towards them.
Teaching your children how to behave appropriately towards others online is extremely important, as children themselves can be some of the worst aggressors towards others. This may not present the same dangers as adult predation, but online bullying can cause severe emotional problems.
Teach your children that it’s important to be respectful online just as it is when talking in person. The internet can present you with a great opportunity for teaching them conversational skills such as how to avoid being drawn into arguments and how to stop disagreements from escalating.
Children should understand that if they are unhappy about communication they receive online they are under no obligation to read or respond to it. Encourage them to send you a copy of anything that’s said to them which makes them feel unhappy, uncomfortable or scared.
Assure them that it’s okay to feel like that because words can hurt, but tell them they don’t need to keep feeling unhappy because you are there to deal with it. Using their internet experiences to teach them the value of walking away is something which can serve them well in all walks of life.