This is not another post about online safety. Instead, this time I’m talking about road rules, or ways to make the internet a better place for everyone. There are a few behaviors I think kids need to learn as they make their way into the interwebs. And to be honest, every one of the points below is on my list because I know a few adults could use these suggestions, too. I’ll put down my smartphone an hour early for the next week for every reader who can run through these points and honestly say he or she can’t see him or herself in any of them. I’m safe, aren’t I?

  • When writing an emotional and/or important email, fill out the “To” field last. This will save your butt when you are furious with a friend or colleague. You vow it’s the last time you’ll let yourself be treated that way and you fire off a few paragraphs so hot they make your computer sizzle. Or, over the course of two hours, you draft a careful cover letter for a job. But then you rethink your words as you write or you’re not quite satisfied with the letter, but the cat walks on the keyboard and…oh, crap. You realize you never should have sent that email. If you hadn’t filled out the “To” field yet, you wouldn’t have.
  • Should you really, REALLY use “Reply All?” The teacher sends out an email asking which families can make it to the class picnic on Friday. Or the manager wants to know who will be at the staff meeting. Suddenly a tidal wave of “Joey will be there,” or “Sorry, I’m having a root canal,” times thirty similar messages floods your inbox. Why? I don’t know. But I do know this: just because an email goes to a group, the answers don’t have to go to the whole group. Stop before you hit “Reply all” and ask if everyone really needs to know the information you’re sending, or if it only needs to go to the person who asked the question. Let’s try to cut down on litter on the information superhighway.
  • Remember that no one can hear the inflection in your head when you write. You know there’s an implied “JK!” at the end of that snarky sentence. But the recipient of your snark may not. A phrase as simple as “Just what I thought you’d do,” can be taken multiple ways, so consider how clear your meaning is before you send your words out by themselves. (Side note: I’ve been burned on this point more than once.)
  • Don’t read the comments in news-related articles. We grownups all know this by now. But we do it anyway. Why, why do we do this? Kids, do better. Share articles that interest you with people you like to talk to, and exchange ideas with them. By all means, seek out people with different viewpoints. They will enrich you intellectually and personally. But sadly, most comments sections seem to attract trolls more focused on narcissistic vitriol than the exploration of ideas or the solution to anything. If you absolutely can’t stop yourself from reading, then at least don’t let yourself get dragged into the mire of a one-on-one debate with a troll.
  • When you sit down for family dinner, don’t bring your tech to the table. An exception can be made if someone is in the emergency room and you are waiting for an update. Okay, a few more exceptions: Mom or Dad is traveling and expected to call, you need to look something up as a family to plan an activity (after which you will put down the device), or the device is considered part of the treatment or therapy for a family member with special needs. Otherwise, it can wait.

Have you got any lessons for teens and their adults you’d like to add to this list?

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