Teaching Manners in a Tech-Obsessed World

Scott Steinberg wants to help us communicate better in our digital lives.

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Author Scott Steinberg believes we could all use a good dose of manners—particularly in how we use technology. Whether checking out email while chatting with a friend, or sending off a quick text while conferring with a co-worker, we're all guilty of phubbing (snubbing someone while on our phones.)

Luckily, Steinberg has published a new book, Netiquette Essential: New Rules for Minding Your Manners in a Digital World, an etiquette guide for these digital days. And he's setting his first sights on kids to make sure they grow up to have manners than the rest of us.

GearBrain: Do you think it's going to be hard to bring manners back today, or have we lost the fight?

Steinberg: I'm an optimist. It's possible to change, we just have to make a conscious effort. You have to think about how you're using devices in the presence of others: texting while talking, and checking email. It's not like you can't turn your phone off, make a conscious effort to make eye contact. You can check messages and emails. But you don't have to do it every two seconds.

GearBrain: How do you teach children to use devices not just responsibly, but politely?

Steinberg: I find concrete examples work tremendously well, and also modeling your own behavior. If you're not posting goofy photos of yourself or disrespecting people online, they'll start to get their heads around it. Kids are given precious little education on these topics. We're in big rush to put these devices in their hands, but no one has taken time to give them the education that's typically done before putting them in such a public space as the Internet. It's kind of goofy.

GearBrain: Are there good first steps to introducing a child to tech tools?

Steinberg: One thing you might do is a make a family contract about when, where and how to use tech. You can include times when devices may be shut off, and also what types of content you're comfortable with them consuming.

GearBrain: Do you find apps and other programs that limit a child's use or time online helpful?

Steinberg: Apps, filters and online tools provide a pretty good frontline of defense. But they're more likely a reactive measure. And the trouble with walls is that a determined child can find ways to get past those safeguards, and tunnel under a wall or get around it. You need a hybrid approach. So if you say you're shutting down devices at certain hours, and banning certain sites and there's no fuss, and a smartphone shuts down at 9 pm, then there's nothing wrong with that. But I think the proactive approach is more effective.

GearBrain: How do you teach children about forever? As in, what you put online can be read by everyone—and forever?

Steinberg: You teach them that posting private information online is the same as shouting information on the subway or in a park. It's helpful to remind them online is one of the biggest public spaces they can find. Instagram and Snapchat are encouraging them to create media and share faster than ever before. But I do find the metaphor of standing on a subway platform, with a crowd of people around, and asking them if they feel comfortable telling all those ppl what they're doing? Because that's what you're doing on the internet times 10.

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