Dear Dr. Robyn,

I want to be clear. I see the value of technology but I also see it’s drawbacks. Children and teens are plugged into devices but not plugged into real conversations. I think the way they interact with others is in jeopardy. It’s important to us that our children show respect in person as well as online.

— CJ Stein; Boston, MA

 Dear CJ, 

How children and teens behave online and in person is a major concern to many parents, teachers and mentors these days. As the cyber-life has become, quite simply, part of life for many people, face-to-face interactions may be suffering. In addition, because cyber-interactions are “faceless,” some people forget to use respect and kindness online.

When it comes to respect in person or online, here are some rules to teach your children:

(1) Teach them the powerful greeting: Some children have never been taught how to greet adults and children in a respectful way. Have them role-play with you and give them a basic script. For example: “Hello, my name is _______. What’s your name? It’s nice to meet you.” Be sure to teach them the proper eye contact and gesturing consistent with respectful interactions in your culture.

(2) Give them opportunities to interact appropriately: Children need to practice social skills. Bring your children to new places where they can practice meeting new people and interacting with them respectfully. Some parents, with the intention to help, may take over most social interactions for their children. While this technique can make experiences more comfortable for a child, it doesn’t help a child hone his skills. It’s better to teach a child in private and then allow him to use his skills publicly.

(3) Provide respect-based rules: Discuss rules for interacting with others both online and in person. What kinds of manners do you expect? When your children are playing with friends, what specific actions do you want to see? When your teens are online, how do you want them to behave? The more specific you are, the more likely they are to understand the rules.

(4) Regard online and social interactions as privileges: When our children and teens act appropriately, they can be trusted to do the right thing. We can provide them with choices and privileges knowing that they will be respectful. However, when children abuse social interactions, we must take time to “re-teach” them about how to show respect before providing privileges. We can lay out our expectations and teach them right from wrong so they will rise to the occasion!

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