Be kind: Raising kids in an online world

If children learn what they live, what are you teaching them with your online behaviour?
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Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

Living your life online — or at least parts of it — is standard in our world today. It’s not the way we grew up, and I’m glad for it. At the same time, just because we didn’t kiss-and-text, doesn’t mean we can pretend that the issues surrounding the evolution of this very public existence are someone else’s problem to solve. And I’m not just talking about our kids. We’re all in this together in a way we never dreamed back in the day, when a snarky remark, however misguided or unnecessary, could die a quick and harmless death in the space between you and your bestie.

I’ve just returned from an incredible three days at the BlissDom Canada social media conference, and my head and heart are full — overfull, honestly — from the renewed realization that there are so many incredible people in this world. Inspiring, passionate, good-hearted people. I could write a dozen blog posts about this conference, and I definitely will write more than just this one to share with you what I discovered, but something I feel a real urgency to write about is from a session conducted on social etiquette.

Be nice. Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your grandma to read. Count to 10 before you jump into a heated discussion. We know all the rules around proper behaviour online and often, the discussions centre on how to teach our kids about living life online carefully, respectfully. Because we already know this stuff, right?

Right?

The powerful session was hosted by CTV’s Neil Hedley (and I pretty much fell over myself praising him for his deft handling of this sensitive and potentially explosive topic for the rest of the weekend). I wish I had the word count to do a play-by-play, but instead, I’ll share some of the words that have stuck in my soul since last Friday.

On the panel were literary agent Carolyn Forde, reminding us that our online persona can have a very big impact on our professional opportunities; singer Jesse LaBelle, discussing the idea that celebrities are “fair game” for online abuse; Glennon Melton, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, now writer and founder of Momastery, who has chosen to suck the energy out of public vitriol and turn it into powerful positivity.

Read more: Why Louis C.K. won’t let his kids have cell phones >

I don’t mean to make any of these guests take second fiddle — they all had such important messages — but there’s no question that just the presence of the fourth member of this panel — Glen Canning — packed a wallop. The father of Rehtaeh Parsons, the Nova Scotia teen who was raped and bullied before taking her own life, is speaking out to share his perspective on cyberbullying. I started crying as soon as I heard his name (I’m even crying as I type his name) and I wish you could have been there to hear him speak about his experiences, without the filter of the media deciding what his message was. He has been through — and continues to live through — online torment and threats, on top of his indescribable grief. Hard to imagine? For me, too.

The veil of anonymity makes some people behave in a way their grandmas certainly wouldn’t approve. We’ve all seen it, maybe we’ve even done it. It needs to end, and we all have the power to play a role in that. Those who are active in social media decide the tone of this global conversation, and also have the power to change the direction.

Glen Canning knows the names of the boys who raped his daughter. He could expose them at any time with an ease never known before, but refuses to. Host Neil Hedley drove home that point to us — that if Glen, of all people, can choose to take the higher road, why can’t we all? Why do we choose to mock and ridicule or cause hurt for any reason? Why do we look at the opinion of a stranger as a opportunity to unleash the worst inside of us, just because no one can see our faces while we do it?

Glennon Melton had the best way of putting it, one that we can all relate to: It’s like you and the other person are in a tug-of-war. You can pull and she can pull and you can focus all your energy into pulling the hardest to win. Or you can let go of the rope and walk away. It takes away the other person’s power, and frees you up to devote all that energy elsewhere. “Why not be your best self online?” she asked. “If you’re not kind online, you’re not kind.”

And I think that last point stuck with many of us, as obvious as it seems. There aren’t different versions of us online and off. We are who we are, everywhere we are.

We don’t have to look at our world today as some scary foreign terrain that we have no tools to traverse. Sure, it’s changing, but it’s not so different. The code of conduct for humanity still stands, our actions still matter, children still learn what they live — they are just learning from more people and places all at once. Those who have a louder voice may set the tone, but today, we all have the ability to be heard, to share our messages on a wider landscape, to join together to make a bigger difference. There is no anonymity, just more voices fighting for an audience. Who are you listening to? What are you trying to say?

Like always, how we behave is our choice and our responsibility — and our legacy. Let’s use our power for good. The world is listening.

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