Set an Example For Young People By Being Kind Online

By Jessica Mitchell

In his World Communications Day message, Pope Francis spoke about the responsibility we have when using the internet.

“The internet can help us to be better citizens. Access to digital networks entails a responsibility for our neighbor whom we do not see but who is nonetheless real and has a dignity which must be respected. The internet can be used wisely to build a society which is healthy and open to sharing.”

It’s important that young people, as well as adults, understand the implications of what they write and share online. Kids should know that the comments they write online are difficult (sometimes impossible) to remove. Bullying has become even more prevalent with the internet, with kids feeling the effects of bullying long after they’ve left school for the day. Children need to be informed about the importance of being kind on the internet and asking for help when they’ve made a mistake or misspoken online.

Adults can set an example for young people by the way we respond to and treat others online. It’s important to examine your own responses online. Do you use language or share images online you would not be comfortable with your child reading? Do you respond in a way that respects the differences of others?

How do we find a common ground when sharing information online that’s valuable to us but also communicate kindly with others? It’s actually not that difficult. Ask yourself a couple questions before choosing to interact with someone online or sharing information on the web.

Does what your posting have a clear purpose? Maybe you’re sharing an update about your children with friends and family you don’t see often. Perhaps you’re posting a recipe or a book you enjoyed, with the intention that others might enjoy the same item. You might share a link to buy a zoo membership or a photo of a local restaurant’s new menu, which promotes economic growth in your community. If what you’re putting on the internet doesn’t have a clear purpose, think about just viewing it, instead of reposting or sharing it.

Would you say in person what you are about to write on the internet? The comments you make online through social media are lasting. Try to be kind and open to the ideas of others. If you are about to post something and it seems intentionally rude or argumentative, how could you rephrase it differently so you show compassion and respect for others?

Will you feel good or different about it later? Breathe. Don’t post when you’re angry. Don’t post private information that might harm a person. Consider a stranger looking at your social media profile. Would they perceive you as being critical and unkind to others based on your posts? Before posting, consider the implications of what you post and how you will feel about yourself after posting.

Use the internet as a resource for connection and a means of gaining information from reliable sources, but don’t forget to shut it off occasionally, and enjoy real conversation with the people you love. Provide good examples for the young people in your life by the way you respond to criticism online and the types of information you share with others on a public platform.

Jessica Mitchell is the Marketing & Design Coordinator at Youth Resources of Southwestern Indiana.