How to Set a Good Example Online

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May 15, 2017

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This is great info, thanks for giving me some ideas on how to start a dialogue with my teen!


Sharon M.

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Table of Contents

When it comes to learning responsible social media and internet use, kids are best guided by observing positive behaviors. It's important to model positive behavior and set a good example online, as kids will witness adults using devices long before they ever get access to one.

Digital safety statistics

  • Only 10% of parents with children under 10 have talked about appropriate online behavior and threats
  • 21% of parents admit that relationships with their children have been damaged as a result of them being seen in a compromising situation on social media

Sources: GuardChild & PRNewswire

Setting a good example online in the news

Parents can set a good example for [students] by being careful about what photos they post. The Wall Street Journal
Parents who worry about their children constantly staring at their smartphones should set an example by not using their own devices so often. Independent

7 tips to set a good example: 

1. Don't gossip on social media

The best way parents can encourage students not to gossip online, is to avoid partaking in it themselves. Parents should teach students that manners matter offline, online, and on social media.

2. Always be learning

It’s very natural for parents to say “I’m not a tech person”. However, it’s important that parents take the time to get on the devices, apps, networks, games, and online activities their children partake in. By “hanging out where your kids are,” you will better be able to ensure your kids are safe online.

3. Put your best foot forward online

For students to shine online, it’s important that they put their best foot forward. Parents can model this behavior by ensuring that everything they post is a positive representation of themselves.

4. Vent in a way that's private

It’s healthy for students to vent when they’re frustrated. A great way to encourage children to avoid using social media to vent is to set an example. Teach kids to reach out via text message, talk to someone in person or call a friend when they want to express frustration.

5. Search for yourself online

A great way for students to monitor their online footprint is to routinely Google themselves to see what search results come up. If students see their parents searching for themselves online (and have a dialog about why it’s important), then it may encourage them to do the same.

6. Take photos in a classy way

It’s important for parents to be aware of the photos they are posting, especially if they are group photos. Before posting a picture on social media, parents should ask themselves if it is something they would want their kids, friends, and their employer to see.

7. Don't waste time on anonymous apps

Anonymous apps won’t help you build a positive online footprint. Parents should avoid using anonymous apps since it will entice students to do the same, as opposed to using apps that could improve their Google results.

How to talk to your students about social media:

Some people believe that avoiding social media somehow creates a pristine digital footprint, but that’s not how it works. People who look for you online and find nothing rarely think, “Oh, this person must be so busy doing great things in the community, they don’t have time for social media.” Instead, they’re more likely to think you’re disengaged from your community—or even have a reason to try and stay out of public view. Parents often try to enforce this idea of complete internet privacy for their kids.

This is understandable, especially if they’ve only heard horror stories about kids involving themselves with sketchy people from the internet, or getting in trouble as a result of something they posted. Keeping your kids off of social media altogether—or worse, trying to keep them in the dark about it—could ultimately cause more harm than good.  

Chances are, even if you ban social media from your home (and avoid having a healthy dialog about it), your kids are still exposed to it elsewhere. They can end up opening their own accounts without you knowing it (or talking with them about it beforehand). In that case, you might have done exactly what you meant to avoid, which is to send them out into the digital world without any guidance.

Once you do open a dialog (which begins with educating yourself), you can show your tweens and teens that there are positive ways to use the internet. They can call attention to good causes, show gratitude to others, demonstrate skills they have (potentially to college admissions officers), and shine online in a way that’s authentic.

How can I start a dialogue with my students?

First, decide if your kids are old enough to start posting things publicly online. This is a personal decision to be made as a family, but age 14 is a good general rule of thumb for many kids.

Then, start having regular discussions with them about their social media accounts in general, and don’t forget to put an emphasis on working with them and not against them. Let them teach you all about the social media platforms they use so that they can feel like they are the expert. Ask them who some of their followers are, and how they decide what to post and why.

Inevitably, there will be something that they have posted—or something they’re tagged in—that will make them uncomfortable for you to see. Anything they cringe at while showing you probably shouldn’t be on their account in the first place. However, this can be a great place to continue the conversation about how they can shine online. Discuss with your kids how being Light, Bright and Polite™ can make them more popular through a clean online reputation.

Sometimes it’s hard to connect with our kids, or say things in a way that they will understand, but it’s very important to break it down in a clear, concise way. When working with kids, avoid buzz words that were created by Fortune 500 marketing departments, like: “digital citizen” and “digital literacy.” These words aren’t a part of the usual middle school or high school-level conversation, and they are not going to resonate with teenagers based on their current experiences.

What are some ways to keep the dialog open?

  • Give kids some space on social media. They might not tell you this, but your kids probably value social media as a way to communicate with their friends (not mom and dad). So, if you see that your child posts something on social media, don’t rush in with a comment: “Hi honey, love you, see you tonight!” That’s why you see kids going to other apps to find their own space.
  • Instead, be a little passive. Just “listen” on social media—almost like a secret spy. This is one of the few times we would advocate that behavior, but in this case, it’s okay. The more you bring up or respond to every little thing you see, the more they’re going to try and hide it from you. Wouldn’t you rather keep this direct connection you have to your kids a bit in reserve, and use it as a secret power in case something goes wrong?

What if I don’t know enough about certain social media apps to even start a discussion, how else can I learn?

First, you can just research the app you want to talk to your kid about using our Parent App Guide page.

On Google, search for the app name and click on the “news” tab at the top of the search result to see what journalists have to say. Click on the “video” button at the top of the Google search to learn how the app works. There is so much information online that you can find in less than 10 minutes.

Next, get your kids involved by asking them to teach you how an app works. Once you’ve got the basic idea of what the app does, you can “play dumb” and ask your kids to explain it to you in more detail. Kids love feeling like the expert and you will learn about the app in their terms, which will help you relate to them even more.


The best way to help your children develop a healthy relationship with screen time is to model positive behaviors. When setting screen time guidelines, it's important to follow the same rules you want your children to follow.

If you don't want your children checking their phones during family time, then don't check your phone either. If you're struggling to start a dialog with your children about digital safety, follow our advice above. Quick tips to ensure you're a positive digital role model for your children:

  • Don't gossip online.
  • Be proactive with your family's digital safety and research the apps they're downloading.
  • Don't vent on social media.
  • Regularly monitor your own digital footprint.
  • Avoid wasting time on anonymous apps.
  • Have an open dialog with your children about social media safety.

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