As my son was approaching the teen years, I would often find myself reflecting on my feelings and attitudes towards technology. On one hand, there was no denying the benefits of technology. But on the other, there was no denying the drama and dangers associated with it. As a public-school teacher, I also observed firsthand the damage that social media, in particular, was having on my students. In response, I decided to create a lesson for the girls I mentor through King’s Daughters United called, “Social Media Etiquette & Wholesome Speech.”
The first concept we need to teach our children and the teens we influence, are the safety rules of the internet. Then we can discuss online etiquette. The biggest problems I have seen with social media relations are as follows:
1. Children (and many adults) hide behind the “safety” of the screen.
People say and post things online that they would never dare say and do in person. Some teens even create false accounts to bully and harass others. I have seen girls create vicious memes and video compilations humiliating a friend they had a falling out with or a peer they don’t particularly like. These are sweet, intelligent girls. Yet, in a moment of boredom, insecurity, or anger, they displayed such cruelty towards another.
2. It has caused immense pressure to fit in and conform to the current trends.
Photoshop, snapchat filters, etc. have created vastly unrealistic expectations. Scrolling through social media for some can be an incredible pressure cooker causing anxiety, insecurity, jealousy, and depression. Teens are seeing fairytale lives portrayed by their peers online without knowing their true hearts or struggles. They are responding by trying to hide or by trying to knock down those who they feel they can’t measure up to. This also includes sexting and other inappropriate posts that teens feel they must participate in to fit in. this is not limited to girls. I have witnessed boys being pressured to take or ask girls for nudes by their friends when that was the last thing they wanted to do.
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3. Things can be taken out of context when read through text without the nonverbal cues and tone of an in-person conversation.
A post is often open to different interpretations. People can take your words out of context or receive them in a way you did not mean for it to be received. So much energy is then spent on trying to correct the misconception or justify your opinion. It can be draining and exhausting, especially for teens who are so impacted by what their peers think of them.
4. A disagreement between friends can instantly become something much bigger as others screenshot, share, and gossip about it.
Others often join in and egg on either party making them feel like they need to defend themselves by any means necessary. A disagreement that would have been resolved or forgotten had it been done in person, is not the talk of the school. Sometimes, the newfound popularity encourages friends to stay apart because others have also chosen sides, making the separation even greater. These new alliances are superficial at best and leave the friends feeling isolated and alone.
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5. Teens do not have the forethought to recognize the effects of releasing certain words and images into the cyberworld.
They do not realize how they will grow and mature and wish those things they posted in ignorance would never have been put out there. They don’t understand that deleting a post or picture does not erase it completely but that it will forever be part of their digital fingerprint. There are many things I am reminded of through Facebook. Some things I never even posted but was included in via a friend’s post. That is why we teach our youth to not only choose their friends wisely, but also walk in a manner worthy of being displayed to the world. Sure, we all have our bad days. But posting them on social media for all to see is not the answer. Most times, it only makes our situation worse instead of better.
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After discussing the five points above and adding relevant real-world or hypothetical examples, I go over the following practices for good social media etiquette & wholesome speech with my teens.
Social Media Etiquette
1. Before posting anything, THINK! If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it online. I
- Is it true? Is it what actually happened or are you going by what someone else has said? Are you exaggerating the truth for attention or dramatic effect?
- Will it help anyone? Is it information that someone needs? Could other benefit from your knowledge, positive support, or encouragement?
- Is it inspiring? Will it cause others to want to do better, strive for more, or achieve their dreams? Will it bring positive vibes or negative ones?
- Is it necessary? Not every one of your thoughts needs to be broadcasted to the world. Some things may cause controversary or tension. If it’s important enough, such as righting a wrong in a respectful way or standing up for social injustice, you may believe it is necessary. However, take a few minutes to discuss with a trusted adult before typing away or “exposing” a situation or person. Make sure you are not only posting for the likes and attention.
- Are you being kind? Will your post hurt anyone? It may be funny, but what impact will it have on others? If it makes 100 people laugh but 1 cry, is it worth posting? In all your interactions in life, kindness should be at the forefront of your mind. You don’t have to agree with everything others say, but you can always maintain a respectful and kind attitude. You cannot control the words or actions of others, but you can always control your response.
2. If you question whether something is appropriate to post, ask a parent or trusted adult first.
If the thought makes you uncomfortable, you probably shouldn’t post it. In fact, do not post anything you wouldn’t want your parents, grandparents, pastors, teachers, or future children to see. This includes using social media as a platform to vent your anger or frustration towards a friend or family member. Disagreements should be handled in a private manner.
3. Refrain from using foul language or acronyms for foul language.
For example, AF, deada**, lmao. If you wouldn’t say the words aloud to your parents, don’t use an acronym for them online. It may seem like no big deal because certain sites promote messages that “go away” after a certain number of minutes. However, screenshots or pictures of your post could have been taken on a separate device. You also carry a digital fingerprint that never goes away. Many schools, jobs, and volunteer organizations also look up sites online that may be linked to you when determining whether or not to choose or hire you.
4. When creating a username/screen name, consider whether or not it is a good representation of who you are.
Although we say we say, “We shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” the reality is that first impressions do count. Online, your screen name and profile picture serve as a basic first impression of you. Same goes for your email address. Consider that anyone you give that email to, including schools, organizations, or prospective employers, will make a judgement of you based on the name you choose. With emails, a good option is some variation of your proper name. Even using scripture, may be lovely, but not exactly the most professional.
5. If someone sends you something that makes you feel angry or uncomfortable, discuss with a trusted adult and delete it immediately.
In addition, if friends are posting things that do not align with your values or are offensive to others, respectfully speak with them about your feelings in private. If they do not respond well to you or continue to post those things, be respectful of their choices but exercise your right to unfollow or unfriend them.
6. Value the face-to-face time you have with family and friends.
Do not bury your face in your phone when you are spending time with others. Be an active listener as you engage in conversation by maintaining eye contact and asking questions/sharing. It does not feel good when you are trying to spend quality time with someone but they are more engaged with their technology than you.
7. Refrain from texting or being on your phone during social events/situations.
For example, when you are:
- having a family dinner
- dining at a restaurant
- attending a worship service or church session
- at a job interview
- during a lecture or meeting
- while paying for something at a store
- at the movie theater or other quiet places where it will take away from the experience of others.
Granted, sometimes you may be taking pictures and hash tagging them while at an event. However, don’t let your time on the phone take away from meaningful interactions with others. Most often than not, those posts and texts can wait until you get home.
8. Get approval from your friends before posting silly or potentially embarrassing pictures of them.
Sometimes an innocent post can go viral in an attempt to humiliate someone. Best practice is to ask first so that you will not be to blame if anything goes wrong. Your relationship with a friend should be more important than a post online.
9. Protect your passwords and never share them with others, even best friends.
Also use different variations of your password so that it will be easier to manage if someone happened to hack into an account.
10. Exercise self-control and time-management by setting good boundaries for how much time you will spend on technology.
If you have an iPhone device, you can use the Screentime feature to limit or just monitor your time on your device. You can also set your restrictions to block inappropriate content. I’m sure there are apps that can do the same for other devices. It is also important to note that it is not because you lack maturity but because you are mature that you should be setting these things in place for yourself.
I hope you enjoyed this post on social media etiquette. I’d love to hear your stories and tips as well! Comment below or email me at [email protected] You can also subscribe below for monthly updates and access to the free resource library.
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