Is the Internet making children less polite?

teen and his laptop
Has the Internet changed your child's personality?

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.


Frequently Answered Questions

Why are people rude on the Internet?
There are a number of reasons why people might be rude on the Internet. In some cases, people might be anonymous and feel like they can say whatever they want without consequence. In other cases, people might simply be disagreeing with someone and be trying to express their opinion in a forceful way. Whatever the reason, it's important to remember that everyone is entitled to their own opinion and there's no need to be rude to someone just because you don't agree with them.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Arunachalam, Sudha, Dylan Gould, Elaine Andersen, Dani Byrd and Shrikanth Narayanan. "Politeness and Frustration Language in Child-Machine Interactions." USC Department of Linguistics and Department of Electrical Engineering. (2/22/12).
  • Brennan, S. E., & Ohaeri, J. O. "Why Do Electronic Conversations Seem Less Polite? The Costs and Benefits of Hedging." 1999. (2/22/12).
  • Edutopia. "Beyond Emily: Post-ing Etiquette." (2/22/12).
  • Hawkins, John. "Five Ways the Internet Is Ruining Our Culture." Free Republic. 9/18/11. (2/22/12).
  • Hoder, Randye. "Teaching Etiquette in the Age of the Evite." The New York Times. 11/30/11. (2/22/12).
  • Lenhart,Amanda. "Cyberbullying." Pew Internet & American Life Project. 6/27/07. (2/22/12).
  • Suler, John, Ph.D. "The Psychology of Cyberspace." Department of Psychology Science and Technology Center Rider University. 2004. (2/22/12).
  • Weir, Laila. " Online Manners Matter." Edutopia. 8/13/08. (2/22/12).