What Teens Want You to Know About Online Etiquette in Their World

Here are some common questions and examples that can help parents relate to their teens in this digital age.

By Laura Higgins, Director of Community Safety and Digital Civility at Roblox

Ask any kid or teen: do your parents understand your online world? The answer will probably be ‘no’. At the same time, it’s becoming extremely important for parents to get a better understanding of their kids’ online lives. Particularly right now when online social interactions and virtual play are filling a much-needed void during weeks of social distancing.

Things have changed quite radically since we were young. In our childhood days kids were seen but not heard. You were expected to “ma’am” and “sir”, respect your elders and just do as you were told. Some of us were lucky to have parents who encouraged our independence, creativity and imagination, but many grew up in more directed childhoods, probably involving academia and sports. While we still want kids to have good manners and be respectful, many of the old ways have become obsolete in the online environment with technology evolving at this mind-boggling pace (same goes for advice given by schools or online safety experts 10 years ago!).

As we encourage parents to be present in their kids’ online lives, the best way to learn is to just ask your kid and teen experts. Just like parents who have lots of life lessons to impart from the past, they are forming their own experiences, just in the online world. Here are just a few common questions and examples that can help parents understand the new “Online Etiquette” and be more in touch with their kids and teens’ new realities.

It’s very hard to interrupt my teen when they’re gaming. What’s the best way to get their attention and do what me or another family member wants/needs them to do?

You may be sick of having the same argument “but Mom, I’m in a game!” Can’t you just stop? Sure, it can be irritating, but imagine you’re watching a film and someone comes and switches it off 5 minutes before the end. You’d be quite frustrated, right? Quora answers on the topic also include this great analogy from Oktay Şen:

“Suppose you're cooking some steak in your kitchen, and someone demands that you immediately stop what you're doing and leave the house.
"Now, if you actually left immediately, the stove would still be on, and within a few hours, the steak would burn, everything would be set on fire and you would lose everything."

Many of the most popular games played by kids and teens today don’t have a pause function, and they will likely be part of a friendship group working together to win each round or perhaps they are competing against each other in real-time. If one person drops out, they can all lose or your teen can lose their points or advantage in the game. The pressure to not let their friends down, alongside the desire to finish what they have been working towards can be huge and unfortunately can lead to rebellion.

Try and get an understanding of the games your kids play. Ask them questions! If this game has rounds, discuss the time you expect them off, and ask that if it nears that time, not to start a new round. Not all rounds take the same amount of time so they may struggle to tell you exactly when they’ll be finished, but it’s still best if you let your kid tell you when they at least expect to be done, so you can show a great example of collaboration and trust as a parent.

I expect my teen to put their phone away when I ask. How much notice should I give?

Just like a request to immediately leave a game with friends that’s already in progress may not be well received by your teen and his friends, suddenly leaving an online chat can also be perceived as disrespectful. If your kids are using a chat app, conversing with mates while gaming or even live streaming, allow them a few minutes’ notice to wrap up the conversation.

For example, if you are having a phone call with a friend, you’d also expect your kids to wait if they are calling for you and have a few extra minutes to finish what you are saying and wrap the call up. We often don’t treat our kids and teens’ activities and interactions with the same level of respect, while in reality, the same etiquette should apply! Let them finish up what they were saying, then have a wrap-up, (this could be agreeing when they are going online next or where they are meeting at school tomorrow), and then saying goodbye. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes but it will save a lot of stress on both sides!

My kids hate it when I post their photos on social media. Should I ask for their permission before I do?

Be a good role model. This means more than just using safe apps, and behaving appropriately online. One thing teens really hate is sharenting, where parents post every detail of their kids’ lives online, often without permission. What message does this send to them? That they can take pictures of their friends and post them online without asking? That it’s ok to write an update that their friend has been off school because they have a virus? This information is private, and we as adults should show them that everyone has a right to say what is posted online about them. Even if they do look cute in those baby pictures.

Laura Higgins currently serves as Director of Community Safety and Digital Civility at Roblox leading the company’s new digital civility initiative and providing the community with the skills needed to create positive online experiences. She has 20+ years of experience building and managing proven online safety projects and safeguarding initiatives.

Top photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash.