How To Behave On The Internet

Teaching Our Children There Are People Behind The Screens

How To Behave On The Internet

Over the past few weeks I’ve had to grow a thicker skin. I’m in a few PC commercials that I’m super proud to be a part of and for the most part, the feedback I have received has been great. And I'm completely good with people who don't like the commercials because I wouldn't expect everyone to like them. But there have been a few comments about me personally that have been less than ... errrrr ... kind.

At first it upset me. The thing is, I’m a real person with real feelings, so to read a hurtful comment about me personally, well let’s just say if you prick me, I bleed. Or, you know, cry. Or stomp my foot. Or email the comment to my close-knit group of friends and family and they all send back responses that make me laugh.

Instead of dwelling on it I decided I wanted to use those comments to turn a negative into a positive.

So I showed the comments to my kids and used them as a starting point to discuss the internet. I wanted to teach them that when they put words out into the world—whether by voice or the written world—there are real people who are receiving them. What better way to do it than using someone they know and love as an example.

It was interesting because at first when I showed them a comment from someone who simply said they didn’t like the commercials and asked how they would respond, they both said they would write something mean back.

Gotta love that they want to protect their mom but *buzz* wrong answer.

So we discussed how negative isn’t necessarily bad, that people are allowed to have opinions even when they don’t mesh with our own. Differing opinions are the perfect opportunity to listen and learn—great conversations can come of it. The minute you start feeling defensive about your own opinion is the exact moment you should take a deep breath and truly listen to what the other person has to say.

Then I let them read a critical comment that was directed at me personally.

Why would she say that about someone she doesn’t even know?” my older son asked.

Good question, right?  With a deep breath in, I explained to them that I have no doubt in real life this person is a nice person, one with friends and family who value his or her opinion. I bet that if we were sitting across from each other drinking coffee, she or he would never say to my face what was typed on the internet. It's unfortunate but there's something about the anonymity of the internet that sometimes allows people to say things they might not say if they were looking that person directly in the eyes.

Then I talked to them about how when they are older and are allowed to leave comments (which they most certainly aren't at this age) they should always act like they are speaking to a person face-to-face. That if they disagree with something someone says, they still need to be respectful because there are real people behind the words we read.

I'm not writing about anything that hasn't been written about a thousand times before and yet we still see it—people on the internet bashing other people, unkind comments, and disagreements that turn into personal attacks.

Listen, I'm the first to admit I've partaken in ass-hattery on the internet. But I'm learning. I hope we all are.

One of the life rules I follow is that I can’t change anyone else, I can only change myself or how I react to a situation. I can't change what someone wrote about me, I can only change how I respond to it. So I took those negative comments and turned them into a positive discussion with my children because someday they are going to google me and when they do, I don’t necessarily need them to be proud of every word I’ve ever written but I can do my best to ensure they won’t be ashamed.

And I want to teach them that this needs to be their own mantra as well.

p.s. I'm totally over the comments I read about myself. I'm incredibly lucky to have good friends and family who lift me up when I'm feeling down. Thank you.