Modelling good digital behaviours

One of the most important ways that young people learn is through modelling. The actions and behaviours of parents and family members are key to teens' learning about how they should engage with the world around them. In the physical world, we model effective behaviour in a variety of ways. For example, on a trip to the park we might find an opportunity to pick up a piece of rubbish on the ground and throw it away. Even if we don't say anything, our modelling has just taught an important lesson that even if it's not our rubbish, we should still take responsibility for making a shared space better by cleaning it up.

Modelling effective behaviour is just as critical in the digital world. As a parent, it's likely that you are already using technology in ways that would be valuable to model for your teen. This might include noticing that a local food bank you follow on Facebook needs donations and posting a message online encouraging your followers to join you in contributing. Or maybe posting about an experience where you stood up for someone who was not being treated fairly and encouraged others to do the same.

But there is an additional challenge to modelling effective digital behaviours. Unlike picking up a piece of rubbish or holding the door open for someone who is carrying shopping, to a kid watching a parent using a computer, all actions look the same. Whether we're checking email, playing a game or doing acts of service online, to the observer we are just sitting at a computer. This may not be helpful for modelling good digital behaviour.

A simple solution is to learn to be overt about modelling good digital behaviour. For example, we might take a moment to tell our kids what we are doing when we're helping someone else online; "I'll be right there, I'm arranging a ride to help a neighbour get to her doctor's appointment tomorrow". When possible, we can involve them in our digital acts of kindness and service too; "I'm posting an invitation on Facebook to promote blood donations next week – how does it look?" Making our acts of digital kindness overt models these behaviours in a way that helps shape and define the type of people our teens will be in digital spaces now and in the future.

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