Young people interact with technology with increasing frequency, and are in constant communication with each other and the outside world via a myriad of devices and websites. Families and schools must assume a leadership role to prepare and guide children for success in the information age by teaching them “netiquette,” which raises awareness of legal, ethical and moral issues. Consistently supporting ethical online behavior and responses begins with focusing on respect: respect for property, privacy, others and self. Children and adolescents, often digital natives, may have a multitude of experience working and playing online, but may not have enough life experience to understand the ramifications their actions may hold.
The Factors Impacting Ethical Online Behavior
Parents can explore three key factors that have the greatest impact on online behavior.
Lack of immediate feedback:
When kids communicate in cyberspace, they do not receive immediate or strong feedback and therefore, they may assume that their words and actions have no real impact. During early adolescence, children interact more independently with technology at the same time that their moral framework develops. This is when parents are encouraged to reinforce behavioral expectations and ideas about respect and common courtesy.
Reduced fear of detection and punishment:
Children often make the following statements about technology-related behavior: “Nobody ever gets caught” and “You can say anything you want on the Internet.” Children are inclined to believe these ideas, because negative consequences are not always immediate or known. When guidance or discipline focuses on how a child’s actions affect others, parents support the internalization of empathy-and help build a framework for ethical online behavior.
New environment, new rules:
Parents can support their children by reinforcing the basic principles of respect within the context of our new technological era. When families have open, honest discussions about what behavior is and is not acceptable, they can create a family agreement about the use of technology. These discussions allow children to share their online experiences, and to feel comfortable approaching parents if they encounter a difficult situation. This also helps children to understand what the family expectations are for behavior on the Internet, as they may not readily see the examples their parents set in online communication as they do in other areas.
The best approach parents can take is to create an atmosphere of open family communication where everyone feels heard and understood. Parents who become aware of their child’s inappropriate behavior can positively support their child by not becoming emotionally reactive, but gather evidence and allow their child to explain their behavior. If parents keep dialogue open with their children, families can successfully navigate the information era with mutual respect and ethical online behavior.
For more information about online responsibility and children, check out these websites: