So many times over the years, I have talked about teaching your kids kindness, love, and compassion for others. Parallel to that, I have talked about teaching your children to be good digital citizens. The one connection I have never made till now is, especially in an age of Tweet storms and anonymous online bullying everywhere on social media is that online compassion, kindness, and love are just as important as they are face to face.
Too often, I see people who are generally kind, well mannered, educated people simply melt down and go off on some social media platform. They rage-type comments and spam replies with rude and careless words.
With this in mind, I want to focus on teaching your kids how to be COMPASSIONATE digital citizens, not just good, but also kind and loving. If you have been alive and awake in the last two years, you have seen someone famous, someone looked up to or even someone powerful loose their unmitigated stuff at someone else on twitter. You have seen someone “important” get in massive trouble with somebody over something they carelessly said online. Friends, this is entirely avoidable. If we start at a young age and teach our kids that if you wouldn’t say it in front of the person, don’t say it online. Teach them to be conscious of other peoples feelings even when they are hidden behind a screen.
I have developed with my four kids 3 simple things I want them to do before they type anything anywhere someone else may read it. (this includes ANY device that is connected, see my post about privacy doesn’t exist) these steps are:
One: Never type mad.
That sounds simple enough, but oh how hard it really is when that person calls you that name or says that thing that hurts so much, and you just want to rip out their throat verbally. No matter how it hurts, never type mad. If you teach your kid to wait, take a walk, talk to someone, get some perspective and put an air gap between them and the hurt, the response will be so much better, so much safer and also much less likely to get them in trouble with anyone.
Two: reread everything you type BEFORE you hit send. Words can never be unheard, you can’t unscrew up. A simple typo can cause so much trouble, so much hurt and is so easy to catch before the button is hit. How many people who have been in trouble in the media recently have later deleted their tweet? It doesn’t help. Everything is on the internet forever. You can not unhurt someone’s feelings.
Third: reverse it and see if you would still say it. OH MY GOD, I wish people online would do this. So much hurt and trouble would be spared. Very frankly, if you wouldn’t say something about one person, you should NEVER say it about another. If you are mad at someone of one gender and you need to reference that gender in your typing, BEFORE you send it, change it to another gender and see if it still sounds OK, same with race, religion, nationality, town of origin, preference, ANYTHING. If you wouldn’t say that about someone from your peer group, never say it about someone from a different group. EVER.
I know these sound so basic and simple but think about the last time someone, anyone got themselves in trouble online, be it twitter the evening news, facebook, or a billboard sign. Now with that memory firmly in your mind, think about what could have been the outcome if they just followed these three simple rules.
Next, now that you know the rules, let us look at how we can drive these rules home with our kids. First, it is crucial to impress on your children that the people they interact with online are real people. They are alive, with feelings and problems and wants and needs and emotions. This is a tough thing to get across. First, your kids, if they are anything like mine, will not listen at all, and just assure you that “they’ve got it.” They don’t. Don’t stop trying to make your point. The more times they hear it, the more real it will become, and the more it will sink in. This was impressed on me when a young youtube personality relayed this story. She was a musician, and had hundreds of thousands of followers but was still playing little tiny shows in small venues to very few people in her home town. It wasn’t until she traveled overseas and was mobbed by thousands of fans before she realized that each follower online is an actual human person. It really impressed her. So much so that she has told this story several times. What impressed me was, there was a savvy young star, smart and really adept at social media who spent all that time gaining likes, clicks, and followers, without really understanding that each one of those clicks was a human, a unique person with needs and emotions. If someone like that didn’t really understand it until thousands of people were face to face with her, I doubt my kids really get it. Keep telling them. They may not seem like they are listening, but they hear you, and over time, it will sink in.
The most valuable way to teach your kids compassion as a digital skill is by example. Yup, this is the one you were hoping I forgot, but here it is. Don’t just tell them, live your example in front of them every day. Have you heard the comedian talk about swearing at another motorist while driving only to listen to their child parrot the curse word from the back seat? Well, your bad words aren’t the only things your children will mirror. They also will emulate your good habits too, but only if they see those good habits. Also, remember that your kids are watching far more often than you think.
In the same way that your kids didn’t learn to swear at other motorists by having you actively turn to them and say “OK, children, now when someone drives poorly we always raise a middle finger, honk the horn and curse loudly!” they will not learn how to be caring and kind by you instructing them. Instead, they are watching when you DON’T think they are. When you are at your natural state, that is when your actions will teach your kids. That means that you have to change. You have to follow those three rules all the time. Every time you interact online, you have to be mindful that not only will those others who you are typing at read your words, but likely your children will too. My two older children follow me on every social they have that I am on. My words affect them, and they hold me accountable for everything I say online, even here, I type these words to you know full well knowing that my kids may read this.
There you have it. Compassion IS a digital skill, also, no matter if we like it or not. Our kids are listening, they are watching us, and because of that, like every other aspect of our life, digital or not, change starts with us. Live your example openly every day, show your kids how to care, show them that the people online are real humans with feelings and teach them to value those feelings, if not for themselves, for the other people who it will affect. Remember the three simple rules, don’t type mad airgap your emotions and your posts, read it before you send it, and reverse it to see if it still sounds right. Doing these things won’t fix everything, but it sure will be a strong start.
Lastly, if you find this info useful if you can think of anyone else who needs to hear it, pass it on. Send this page out to anyone you know who could use to be more compassionate online, like your parents, your coworkers, your congressperson, or senator, heck send it to the president if you want, but whoever you send it to, do it in a spirit of love and kindness.