Education insights

8 key netiquette lessons to develop good digital citizens

From listening when another person is speaking to exiting an uncomfortable conversation graciously, none of us are born knowing the rules of etiquette. And digital etiquette, or “netiquette,” is no different. That’s why teaching digital etiquette is an important part of helping K-12 students develop into good digital citizens.  

Today’s students have a complex web of rules and expectations to learn in order to respectfully interact with each other and their teachers online. What’s appropriate on one platform may not be on another. And certain behaviors — like making private information public or bullying others — are never acceptable.  

Educators must play a role in helping students learn these skills, because the habits students form today can directly determine their ability to succeed in college and their future careers.  

8 digital etiquette lessons to teach students 

Digital etiquette is one of the nine key areas of digital citizenship, along with digital access, commerce, communication, literacy, law, rights and responsibilities, health and wellness, and security. It’s a great idea to structure digital etiquette conversations both as a formal lesson and as teachable moments when situations arise – in the classroom or whenever students are learning. 

Here are 8 key lessons you can use as a starting point to teach students about digital etiquette: 

  1. Protect private information. 

Whether it’s a photo their friend doesn’t want shared or the student’s own personal information, it’s vital that students learn to protect private information when posting in public spaces. Help your students identify the types of information that are considered private. Some examples include: 

  • Passwords 
  • Their address 
  • Their whereabouts 
  • Other personally identifiable information  
  • Embarrassing photos  
  • Betraying comments 

Brainstorm with your class to come up with other examples of private information and discuss gray areas (e.g. Using your real name in class forums but a screen name in public forums).  

  1. Skip the negativity. 

Many people find it easy to be negative online, especially when hidden behind the anonymity of a screen name. As more students work toward careers as eSports heroes, journalists, influencers, and YouTube personalities, they will become subject to the dreaded “Comments” section and all the negativity it can bring. 

Help your students understand and avoid becoming part of the “Comments” culture. Explain that negative comments are just as hurtful and destructive online as they are in person. Expressing one’s artistry, opinion, or passions is a vulnerable position, and students should support each other, or at the very least, avoid tearing one another down. Teach students that the old maxim still applies in the digital space: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. 

  1. Think twice before clicking “send.”  

Most of us have had a moment where we fired off a snide email in haste, only to regret it later. We’ve also sent emails we thought were harmless, only to realize our wording was misleading and our intentions were misunderstood.  

Teach students the value of slowing down and reviewing their communications before hitting “send.” If they make it a habit to re-read what they’ve written, not only will they catch more of their grammatical errors, but they may also catch themselves before sending something that sounds inappropriate or misleading. 

  1. Exit mean conversations. 

Cyberbullying, unfortunately, exists online. Students should feel empowered and encouraged to report bullying situations they or their friends have encountered. They should also feel empowered to leave conversations that make them feel hurt or uncomfortable. 

Teach students that they do not have to remain in conversations where someone has become unkind or intolerant toward them. In fact, the best thing to do is to log off before any abuse can escalate. 

  1. Avoid sarcasm or dark humor. 

Sarcasm can be a great way to make light of a situation or relate to other people, but unfortunately, it does not translate well online. 

Explain to students that sarcasm, dark humor, and other forms of irony are highly dependent on tone and body language, and therefore, should be avoided in textual communication. Too often, a sarcastic comment will be read as sincere and can lead to misunderstandings. Tell students that, while online sarcasm can be tempting, no joke is worth the risk. 

  1. Be forgiving of others’ mistakes. 

The more we communicate through text, the more we learn about each other’s grasp on grammar and spelling. We’ve all known someone who revels in correcting other people’s mistakes Students are no different — it can be tempting for more grammatically inclined kids to correct others to show off their own skills or redirect an argument. 

Make it clear that, as the teacher, it’s your job — not other students’ — to correct grammar and spelling errors. And when you do make corrections, use your best judgment. Often a private message is the best avenue to deliver this type of constructive feedback. 

  1. Keep the audience in mind. 

What is appropriate for a one-to-one text message may not be appropriate for a group chat or forum post to a teacher. It’s important to teach students to keep their audience in mind when crafting their message. 

For example, even if their best friend is part of a class-wide group chat, it’s not appropriate to use an inside joke, as most of the class will be excluded from its meaning. And when speaking to a teacher, students should always adopt a more formal tone with complete sentences and respectful language. One day they will need to email their boss or a client, and the ability to speak appropriately to an audience is crucial to success. 

  1. Let people know when you’re signing off. 

Finally, just as they wouldn’t leave a party without saying goodbye, students should learn to announce they are leaving if they’re involved in a real-time discussion. Failure to announce they’re signing off can lead to confusion among the people they were speaking with, who may be left wondering whether they said something to anger them or may continue talking, unaware the student has left. 

Making Digital Etiquette an Ongoing Lesson 

Teaching digital etiquette is an ongoing process since there are many situations that require in-the-moment correction and discussion. With LanSchool’s classroom management software, you can address etiquette situations as they arise by: 

  • Noticing breaches of etiquette while monitoring students’ screens and chats 
  • Sending a class-wide message to correct a common behavior 
  • Sending a private message to correct a specific student’s error 
  • Taking screenshots of more egregious etiquette breaches or bullying to share with the student’s parents 

Etiquette is just one part of keeping students healthy and safe while interacting online. It’s important to also use security software to catch and eliminate more serious threats to students’ security and self-esteem.  

Lenovo NetFilter is a web filtering software that uses artificial intelligence to catch threats other software misses. It’s purpose-built for the education space, so it also includes features that reduce the implementation and management burden on IT teams, such as easy mass deployment and built-in reporting. Schools can also upgrade to Lenovo NetFilter+, which includes keyword alerts when a student uses a concerning term related to cyberbullying, self-harm, suicide, or other threats to someone’s mental or physical health. Read about Lenovo NetFilter 

With the right strategy and tools in place, teaching netiquette can be a powerful yet approachable goal for any educator. Students will spend the rest of their lives interacting on digital devices — set them up for success by giving them the support they need to become good digital citizens.  

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