Socializing happens everywhere you—and your digital device —go. Connecting with others is part of human nature and begins at birth. Many kids start developing online relationships around the age of 8, usually through password-protected digital worlds. By age 10, they’ve progressed to sharing digital creations and texting via hand-held devices. By age 13, millions of kids have created accounts on social networking sites.
But just like in the cafeteria or at the mall, there are things you need to know to have a more positive experience when meeting new people and socializing with friends or acquaintances. The best way to learn these digital life skills is to talk about it with the people you trust most—your family.
Here are some conversation starters to share awesome ways to make safer, smarter, more positive decisions when socializing as a digital citizen:
You may already talk about whom you sat next to on the bus or during lunch, but expand that conversation to include text, social media or virtual worlds. From there, you can find out some of the "what" that was discussed. Keep in mind, these conversations should be two-way. If you're a parent, share who you've connected with today.
It's important to talk about the fact that people aren't always who they say they are online and sometimes people can be dangerous, rude or hurtful. Talk about what to do if someone you don't know tries to connect beyond a virtual world, or you receive a message that is inappropriate or scary. Reinforce to each other that it's ok to block or delete people if you feel in anyway threatened by them. Talk about the people you can tell if that ever happens—someone you all trust , such as a parent, an older sibling, a teacher—who can help think through next steps.
Families have varying views on what is appropriate to share online. Decide together what is just enough—and what is too much. Certain things are important not to share, such as your real name in a virtual world or personal information via social media (i.e., address, social security number, phone number). But in a social environment, "oversharing" can harm others or negatively affect your reputation.
The best rule of thumb—treat others as you want to be treated and think twice before sharing something very personal. Consider how posts, photos, quotes, texts, etc. are all part of your identity and anything you put out there digitally can be viewed by a vast, invisible audience of people you may or may not know.
Share when you see something you don't think should be shared. You can learn from others' mistakes, as well as your own. And lastly, it's 100% appropriate for a son/daughter to push back on what their parents post about them: "Hey mom— stop posting those #TBT photos of me!"
Sometimes people are not so awesome. In a digital setting, it's easier to forget or ignore how others may feel about what you say because you can't see faces. Ask each other if you have ever experienced digital drama. What did you do? Talk about the best way to avoid it entirely. Talk about how to show respect and kindness to others and why you socialize with people who care about you most. Share about times you have overcome drama—in the digital or the real world. The same social situations and skills apply. Decide when it's best to hide, block or delete someone who causes stress. Identify a few people to turn to—a parent, an older sibling, a trusted teacher—when a problem continues.
Awesome is connecting with old friends. It’s catching up with relatives who live far away in a way that feels like they are in the next room.
Awesome is that moment when someone in your house goes from staring at a screen to giggling uncontrollably at something they see on their screen. That’s the moment when socializing online can become a real-time conversation in your living room. A simple question, “What’s so funny?” can open the door to a conversation about what each of you enjoys in your own digital life. That’s sharing awesome.
Happiness is one of the many awesome emotions you can experience when socializing in digital settings. Talk about times you’ve experienced other positive emotions—empathy, compassion, pride. What does it for you? For some it’s funny cat videos, for others it’s online movements to clean water in developing countries. Each day, focus time on these kinds of interactions— time that will fill you and others with positive emotions.
Remember, whatever works to keep you positive—will work for others. And that’s the awesome we hope you’ll share using #ShareAwesome.
Safer, Smarter Decisions
I pledge to #ShareAwesome by inspiring my family and friends to be safer, smarter, more positive digital citizens.