Being kind online: conversations to have with your child

Most parents share the goal of raising kind children, but in a world filled with new forms of media and digital interaction this can feel trickier than ever before. Our kids are growing up surrounded by negative social media comments, catty text threads, snarky videos, and outright bullying. This leads many of us to wonder how we can best support them to rise above and engage kindly with others.

As with all things related to technology, it’s crucial for parents to have open and meaningful conversations with children (of all ages) about being kind online. We can’t assume they know it’s important and will act accordingly. Kids require guidance and strategies as they grow and encounter more challenging interactions and behavior in the online realm. In this article we will explore several key conversation topics and provide strategies and tips to help you guide your children towards kindness in the digital world and beyond.

How common is online bullying and unkind behavior in general?

One of the first conversations to have with your child is about the prevalence of online bullying and unkind behavior. Most children don’t fully understand the scope of the issue, and it’s important to help them understand the impacts. 

Statistics show that cyberbullying and unkind behavior online are far too common, with 50% of teens reporting they’ve experienced some form of online bullying behavior. Let your child know that these behaviors can take many forms, including hurtful comments, trolling, exclusion, spreading rumors, and even more severe forms of harassment. Share some statistics and real-life examples to emphasize the seriousness of this problem.

Strategy: Begin by asking your child about their experiences or observations of peer behavior online. Encourage them to share any incidents they might have come across or situations that caused them distress (for themselves or someone else). This can serve as a starting point for the conversation and help you understand their perspective. Being able to share perspectives is an important component of behaving in kind ways toward others.

What does it mean to be kind online?

Being kind online doesn’t differ much from being kind in the physical world. It’s about treating others with respect, empathy, and courtesy; doing to others as you would want them to do to you. Kindness means not intentionally hurting someone’s feelings, offering help when needed, encouraging others, and promoting a positive and supportive online environment. 

Explain to your child that just as they would avoid teasing or belittling a classmate in the real world, they should refrain from doing so online. The impacts are the same, even if you’re not physically in the same place and even if you don’t know the person.

Strategy: Use real-life scenarios to illustrate the concept of online kindness. Share examples of positive interactions online and discuss how they made you or others feel. Make sure to talk about negative encounters and their impact on how people think and feel. It can help your child grasp the importance of being kind online when they are able to understand the real negative consequences for others.

talking to your child about being kind online

Why should we be kind to others online?

While you may feel like this is obvious, kids (and even many adults) can struggle to understand the impact of their actions when they aren’t engaging in face-to-face interactions. Discuss with your child the reasons why kindness is essential in the digital world. Being kind online not only makes the internet a better place but also has numerous benefits for the person practicing it. Explain that when we are kind, we foster positive relationships and build a strong sense of community. We feel better about ourselves! 

Online kindness can also protect children from engaging in cyberbullying, or being victims, which can have serious emotional and mental health consequences. It is also important to help kids think about the future, especially what potential friends, partners, and employers might see about their comments and behavior. While it might not be easy for kids to take this future-oriented approach, it’s critical that they understand that things they post are permanent and searchable well into the future.

Strategy: Share personal stories or examples of the positive outcomes of being kind online. Explain how kindness can lead to fulfilling friendships and opportunities. Discuss the consequences of unkind behavior, emphasizing the harm it can cause to others and potentially to themselves: both now and in the future.

How can I be kind on social media?

Practical guidance is crucial in helping your child navigate the online world with kindness. Kids need you to partner with them in learning how to navigate social media in healthy appropriate ways. Share specific ways they can actively be kind on social media platforms:

  1. Think before you post: Emphasize the importance of considering the impact of their words and actions before posting anything. Remind them that once something is online, it can be challenging (or impossible) to erase.
  2. Avoid sharing hurtful content: Teach your child not to share or comment on content that could be harmful or offensive to others. Encourage them to report or block users who engage in such behavior.
  3. Support others: Encourage your child to offer support and encouragement to those who need it. A kind comment, a “like” on a friend’s post, or a simple message can make a significant difference in someone’s day.
  4. Respect privacy: Discuss the importance of respecting other people’s privacy and not sharing their personal information without consent.
  5. Be mindful of tone: Help your child understand that written words (and even memes or emojis) can be easily misinterpreted, so it’s crucial to choose their words carefully and ensure their tone is respectful.

Strategy: Sit down with your child to explore their favorite social media platforms together.  Discuss specific scenarios where they can apply these strategies. Role-play conversations, text messages, etc. to practice kind behavior and responses. Use a parental control tool like Qustodio to monitor and support your child with their digital habits and communication as they grow.

What should I do when I disagree with someone online?

Adults and children alike can struggle with remaining kind in the face of disagreement…and the internet is full of it! Disagreement is a natural part of life, both in the physical and digital worlds. It’s essential to teach your child how to handle these situations with kindness and respect. Here are some strategies for approaching online disagreements:

  1. Stay calm: Encourage your child to remain calm and composed when faced with a difference of opinion. Step away from the phone or computer for a few minutes (or longer) to avoid reacting impulsively or angrily.
  2. Use respectful language: Teach them to express their views in a respectful and non-offensive manner. Avoid personal attacks and derogatory language. This often requires consistent modeling and practice with trusted adults.
  3. Seek understanding: Suggest that they ask questions and try to understand the other person’s perspective. It’s essential to create an open dialogue rather than being rigid or dismissive.
  4. Agree to disagree: Kids need to know that it’s normal for people to not everyone agree on everything. Teach your child that it’s acceptable to have differing opinions without resorting to mean words or actions.
  5. Know when to disengage: In some cases, it’s best to disengage from a conversation if it becomes unproductive or overly negative. Remind your child that they can and should walk away from online discussions that are causing distress. Let them know that they can always come to you if something online is upsetting them.

Strategy: Share examples of respectful disagreements online or in other media, and discuss how they were handled. Help your child understand that healthy debates can lead to personal growth and the exchange of valuable ideas.

Having conversations with your child about being kind online is a crucial part of their digital education. Teaching them to be kind, respectful, and responsible online citizens is just as important as instilling these values in the physical world. 

By addressing the prevalence of online bullying, defining kindness, explaining its significance, and providing practical strategies for online interactions, you can help your child navigate the digital world with empathy and respect. These conversations will not only protect them, but also contribute to creating a more positive and uplifting online community for all of us.

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