Don’t put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the Boston Globe, a former colleague of mine once advised. The lesson of “think before you send” is even more important for tweens and teens, now that a large portion of their social communication happens over the Internet.
My 13-year-old daughter and her friends learned that lesson the hard way. Instant messaging, or IM’ing as it's called, was the vehicle by which one girl’s feelings were badly hurt by another who sent an unintentionally harsh message. While the words in the message may have been honest, it was removed from the context, tone of voice and body language that are vital to meaningful communication. How we interact is more than just the facts, ma’am.
Back in the day, it was the occasional typewritten memo unintended for general distribution that got people in hot water. Or the recorded voice mail message that was inadvertently sent to the whole company instead of just the intended recipient.
Now, people can type (or text) and send their message to a recipient – or the world – faster than their better judgment can catch up with them. And once words are on the Internet, they take on a life of their own, which may be permanent. Corporate recruiters and admissions officers routinely peruse an applicant’s cyber life; and those party scenes and banter with friends might be a lot less hilarious to potential employers than to other students.
As parents, we worry about keeping our kids safe from online predators. But we need to emphasize an equally important fact of living in a wired world: Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in person – or that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the Boston Globe.