The Internet brings the world closer in many ways, but it can also create a layer of distance that encourages people to shed their inhibitions and act differently than they would during comparable face-to-face encounters. The experts call this phenomenon "disinhibition," and a growing number of parents are becoming concerned that the Internet is teaching their children poor social habits in the real world because the relaxed rules in cyberspace don't mesh with social expectations at home, at school or in the community.
Aspects of the cyber-medium may have built-in limitations that can cause problems, too. Texting an idea to a friend involves lots of abbreviations and hurried responses. This type of shorthand doesn't have room for the finesse necessary to smooth the waters of human interaction. Emoticons -- those smiley faces designed to represent emotions -- are one cyber method of softening the impact of discourse where many of the subtle nuances are lost. If you're trying to express a complex thought in five words, it's probably not difficult to accidentally come off sounding curt, superficial, insensitive or even cruel. The same goes for sounding polite when courtesies like "please" and "thank you" require extra thumb action. After spending so much time texting and embracing brevity (and maybe some incautious wit), it may not be all that surprising when kids forget the niceties -- or fail to value them.
Growing concerns about cyberbullying, sexting and other digital communication abuses have prompted many schools to begin teaching net etiquette or "netiquette," as a set of basic tenets for polite online behavior. It isn't surprising that some common netiquette guidelines translate well to real life, too:
- Think before you post (or speak).
- Never respond in anger. Cool off first.
- Be courteous.
- Don't share private messages with others for whom they weren't intended. (Don't gossip.)
- Don't indulge in bad language or insults.
Like bringing law to the Wild West, teaching children to show courtesy and respect in their Internet exchanges may eventually translate to better manners online as well as off. In the meantime, making good manners a priority at home from a young age couldn't hurt.