Teaching kids to be kind online is an important part of helping children develop into responsible and respectful digital citizens. As a parent, there are several steps you can take to help your child learn to be kind online. Here are a few suggestions:
Lead by example. As a parent, you are a role model for your child's behavior and attitudes. If you are kind and respectful online, and your child is exposed to examples of these types of kindnesses, then your child is more likely to follow your lead. How might you share your own experiences of being thoughtful and considerate online to role model kindness? Additionally, think about ways in which others have treated you with respect online. If age appropriate, tell your child about how you felt when you were treated with compassion online. These authentic stories will help your child connect to online kindness messaging more directly.
For example… a parent might say, “I noticed a friend posted about how she was having a hard week. I decided to send her a private message to tell her I was thinking about her and I hope things will get better. She seemed grateful that I reached out and she also said she felt less alone after reading my message.”
Talk to your child about online kindness. Don't assume that your child knows how to be kind online – instead, take the time to talk to them about it. Discuss the importance of being kind and respectful online, and give them specific examples of what this looks like in practice. Such as, discussing the difference between just passively looking at friends’ pictures and videos versus making supportive comments about what you like about them. Just as you would teach your child to treat others with respect in-person, think of the ways in which this translates to online experiences. And how might it be more difficult to be kind when you are not interacting face-to-face or with immediate feedback?
For example… a parent might say, “Pause and think before you say or write something unkind online. Ask yourself… would you say those words to that person’s face?” “Even if you disagree or have negative feelings towards someone online (or in-person), it is important to be respectful and not purposely make someone feel bad.”
Encourage empathy and perspective-taking. Being kind online involves being able to understand and respect other people's perspectives and feelings. Help your child develop these skills by encouraging them to think about how their actions online might impact others, and by teaching them how to put themselves in other people's shoes. Here at The Tech Savvy Parent, we talk about the Online Empathy Vacuum and how online experiences are missing some of the crucial elements needed for empathy. Communicating these deficits will help prepare your child for what they will encounter online.
For example, a parent could say, “I know it’s easy to make fun of other people for what they say or do online but how might you feel if you knew others were doing the same to you?” “Can you put yourself in that person’s shoes and think of a kind reason as to why your friend might be behaving that way?”
Help your child understand the consequences of unkind online behavior. While it can be tempting to brush off unkind online behavior as "just words," it's important to help your child understand that their words and actions online can have real consequences. Discuss with them the potential impact of unkind online behavior on other people, and the potential consequences for themselves as well (such as being blocked or banned from social media platforms). Additionally, comments posted online can have permanent consequences and can potentially be attached to your child for the rest of their life.
For example, a parent might say, “You may feel tempted to make fun of, or bother someone else online – either because you are annoyed with them or a group of your friends are doing it together. Try to pause and think about a couple things. One… regardless of how much you don’t like this person, this is still an actual person who deserves to be treated with respect. Also… there is a record of what you are doing online and you may get in trouble or have those actions used against you in the future. If you feel stuck, come to me, and we can figure it out together.”
Provide support and guidance as needed. If your child is struggling with unkind online behavior, or if they are the target of unkind behavior from others, it's important to provide them with support and guidance. Remember, the internet was not intended to be a social hub for children. Expect your child to behave differently online because the internet is inherently set up for conflicts and poor social skills.
Help your child to understand their options for responding to unkind behavior, and to take action to protect themselves and others. If you, as parents, can have some grace and compassion for your child’s mistakes (whether they are engaging in unkind behavior or on the receiving end), then your child will learn and be more likely to come to you next time for help.
Overall, teaching kids to be kind online involves setting a good example, having open and honest conversations, and providing support and guidance as needed. By taking these steps, you can help your child develop the skills and attitudes they need to be kind and respectful online.