You know your kids are like little sponges soaking up everything around them. This can be hopelessly adorable sometimes. Other times, it can be irritating or even a little scary. The problem with teaching kids about appropriate behavior is that they pay a lot more attention to what you do than to what you teach. Any teen watching your car wobble down the road while you adjust your seat or dash-mounted GPS might be inclined to think distracted driving is only natural, and that texting or chatting on his handheld cell phone while driving may be OK. This isn't to say that the only way to teach your children responsible driving is to keep a white knuckled grip on the steering wheel at all times, but know that your actions are being observed -- whether you're behaving like a sensible grownup or not.
Using technology safely isn't the only problem. The electronic age has created whole new categories of rudeness that mannerly folks just haven't adopted hard and fast rules about yet. Imagine standing in an elevator with a stranger. That person asks a question, and just as you open your mouth to answer politely, he turns and you discover he's talking on a cell phone. Ever happened to you? Beyond feeling embarrassed and maybe a little irritated, don't you get the sense there should be some social rule that protects you from having to listen in on private cell phone conversations conducted in public places? What about the guy who blasts the bass on his stereo so high the music undulates down the street like a controlled earthquake, or the nitwit who forgets to turn his phone off before entering the theater?
The rules governing polite tech behavior may lag behind the technology itself, but that's the time when good manners and circumspection should step in to rule the day, especially in front of the kids. For example, you may realize that grabbing the remote control and channel surfing while others are trying to watch the television is a no-no, but your teen may decide it's perfectly fine after watching your blithe disregard for everyone else in the room. When he gets older, you may find yourself wrestling with him for control of the remote on a regular basis -- and he may end up bigger than you.
On the next page, let's take a look at some more ways parents (and others) are teaching kids the wrong lessons when it comes to technology and good manners.
Examples of Parents' Bad Tech Behavior
You probably interact with technology throughout the day. From turning on the flat screen (and DVR) to get the weather report in the morning to checking the gas prices on a smartphone or calling ahead to make a lunch reservation. Tech tools offer us unprecedented access to information -- and each other. As tools, they're only as good or bad as the people who wield them, but that can be a big catchall.
There's a lot of talk these days about cyberbullying (sending threatening e-mails or texts), sexting among minors (sending sexually explicit photos or texts) and loss of privacy on the Internet. Things have become so disturbing that many schools have instituted a list of rules for courteous conduct when using electronic media. Some of them are common sense, like not using foul language, but the fact that these lists are now being taught in school gives us a hint that responsible conduct when using technology isn't always intuitive. How would you fare if you were being completely honest about your tech use and occasional abuse:
- Have you stolen cable? Have you ever hijacked a cable signal for your personal use? Sure, since things have gone digital it's a lot harder to do, but if it was still a matter of splicing a few wires, would you do it? It's still stealing, and even though it isn't as dramatic as taking cash out of someone's wallet, it can send a powerful message about honesty.
- Do you download illegal content? In 2009, the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) published a report claiming that 95 percent of the music downloads made in 2008 were illegal. If you bemoan the high cost of concerts and feel music should be free for the asking -- especially to you -- look around. Your kids are listening. When you don't pay your share, whether you think it's fair or not, you teach your kids that obeying the rules is just a suggestion.
- Do you talk on your cell while driving? Using a handheld cell phone while driving is illegal in nine states as well as the District of Columbia. In addition to that, 35 states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving. Driving distracted, whether you're using a cell phone or plugging in your fuzz buster, is dangerous. It may not cause an accident today or even tomorrow, but one day, your luck will run out. Don't teach your kids that it's OK to take risks in a vehicle. You'll regret it, and so will they.
- Are you a messaging meanie? Do you send curt or nasty voice messages, texts or e-mails? Remember the infamous audio message Alec Baldwin sent to his daughter in which he called her a "rude, thoughtless little pig." After the message went viral on the Internet, he claimed domestic issues pushed him to the "breaking point," but that tape will probably haunt him the rest of his days. Texting or recording messages in the heat of the moment is a lousy idea. Wait an hour. Remember, nothing ever dies in cyberspace, and if your child follows your example and writes something libelous or threatening about a teacher, neighbor or classmate, it could end up being a nightmare for all involved.
- Adams, Sean. "95% of music downloads in 2008 were illegal." 1/16/09. (2/22/12). http://drownedinsound.com/news/4136081-95-of-music-downloads-in-2008-were-illegal-dis-reacts-and-suggests-two-solutions
- Bayer, Lewena & Karen Mallett. "Phone and internet manners for kids." Canadian Living. (2/22/12). http://www.canadianliving.com/moms/parenting/phone_and_internet_manners_for_kids.php
- Brennan, S. E., & Ohaeri, J. O. "Why Do Electronic Conversations Seem Less Polite? The Costs and Benefits of Hedging." 1999. (2/22/12). http://www.psychology.sunysb.edu/sbrennan-/papers/brenwacc.pdf
- Carr-Harris, Dory. "Are Parents Teaching Their Kids Bad Smartphone Behavior?" Guardian News & Media Limited. 7/4/11. (2/22/12). http://www.psfk.com/2011/07/are-parents-teaching-their-kids-bad-smartphone-behavior.html
- Hawkins, John. "Five Ways the Internet Is Ruining Our Culture." Free Republic. 9/18/11. (2/22/12). http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-bloggers/2780173/posts
- Governors Highway Safety Association. "Cell Phone and Texting Laws." 2/12. (2/22/12). http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/cellphone_laws.html
- Hoder, Randye. "Teaching Etiquette in the Age of the Evite." The New York Times. 11/30/11. (2/22/12). http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/30/teaching-etiquette-in-the-age-of-the-evite/
- IFPI. "Mission." (2/22/12). http://www.ifpi.org/content/section_about/index.html
- Suler, John, Ph.D. "The Psychology of Cyberspace." Department of Psychology Science and Technology Center Rider University. 2004. (2/22/12). http://users.rider.edu/~suler/psycyber/psycyber.html
- Weir, Laila. "Behaveyourself.com: Online Manners Matter." Edutopia. 8/13/08. (2/22/12). http://www.edutopia.org/whats-next-2008-netiquette-guidelines