Typically viewed as a formality, and not essential to daily life, etiquette is a fundamental way of expressing care or regard for others. It is a form of courtesy or respect that creates a welcoming environment for the individual at home, school or the work place.
Etiquette also inspires confidence when we know how to conduct ourselves in social settings.
At the root of etiquette is self respect, which seems to be lacking, as reflected in much of the content of popular culture as expressed in reality shows like Big Brother, and the political gridlock of federal and state government. In a recent Daily Times (Delaware) article, Pamela Degrassa expresses concern about the lack of manners and respect displayed by people of all ages, and especially children. She sites an NBC poll that 79 percent of people agree that Americans have a disrespect problem, and 73 percent concur we used to treat one another with more respect in previous decades, and respect issues are on the rise.
In the network culture, hierarchical structure is de-emphasized and formal authority carries less gravitas. The world is indeed flat. And by the same token, children are craving authenticity from adults. So is it really necessary to address elders as Mr. and Mrs.?
It depends upon whether your children look them in the eye and are courteous; and by the same token how the adults treat children. Respect goes both ways, and the adults are the ones who are the “alpha” position; so if we are not modeling and expecting respect in our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, and in our politics, then it is not surprising that we have disrespectful children.
My philosophy and experience tells me that if children are disrespectful, they are reflecting how they are treated and/or how they view themselves.
How does etiquette apply to technology and mental health?
The seductive power of texting and social media make good manners matter even more important, especially at home. Attention is the scarcity of our time and the children know it. They know divided attention when they experience it. It is one thing to experience divided attention because of the many demands of family business, but it is quite another when attention surrendered to the device in lieu of meaningful conversations.
When we do not honor ourselves, and we allow the technology to dominate our lives, then there are consequences that can be harmful. Recent headlines explain this:
- Sleep texting is reportedly increasingly common experience among young people…who wake up in the morning with no recollection of having sent a text message during the night.
- South Korea is reportedly experiencing “digital dementia” (loss of right brain function which involves short term memory, inability to solve problems, and relate to others) with their young population – resulting from “Internet addiction” – too much time with the wireless devices.
What does this say about the power of technology over the life of an individual? Some of the unintended consequences of technology use can be:
- Sleep deprivation
- Increased anxiety
- Broken relationships
- Addiction (to devices, games, porn, and substances)
The technology has no power unless we give it power, starting with how we allocate our attention to family. In order for children to learn how to bond with others in healthy ways and balance their use of technology, they need to experience proper attention management which can be demonstrated through technology etiquette at home.
The best way to respect yourself as an individual is to express it to others first.The signal your etiquette sends is that family relationships come first. This is how God loves us.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Luke 6:31
Technology etiquette tips for parents:
- Parents set the example. When your child approaches you with a question or concern, put aside whatever you are working on (on or off line) and give your full attention. (In our home, we had a hand signal in the form of holding the first two fingers up to form a V, like a peace sign, which signaled me they needed to interrupt. I would then nod looking them in the eye to acknowledge them, and then find an appropriate moment to interrupt the conversation and give them my full attention.)
- Do not grant your child privacy, but respect it. This means that you have access to all social media and texting accounts. By the same token, do not share with others matters about your child that should be private. In this way you are respectful and also staying informed to provide custodial oversight for your child’s affairs.
- Discipline and correcting your child should be done face to face – not on line or via text.
- Refrain from offering your comments or observations on line. Treat your on-line presence in your child’s network as you are the driver of a car. Present and primarily listening.
- Be mindful of how much time you spend on your wireless device around the children. Are you fully present? Are you in a position to observe your child in his environment? Are you approachable and available?
- Establish a power down time at the end of the day when mobile devices are turned off so that your children can have a genuine bedtime without the texting/posting drama into the early hours of the morning.
- Have an expectation that mobile devices are not allowed at the dinner table or when in the company of family for a social gathering.
- Texting is not an acceptable way to communicate through conflict. Insist on face to face communication or voice.
- Monitor your child’s social media posts for courtesy and kindness. If you find posts that are out of alignment with your family values, then bring it to your child’s attention off line, and give her a chance to correct it.
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM, Tuesdays. Her next book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media will be released in the fall 2013.
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