Digital Etiquette and Polite

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I used to teach cotillion classes for eight and ten year olds. Business has sort of dried up, so I was thinking of retooling and getting kids ready for phones. Basically, etiquette for new phone users. I looked on the Internet for a class like this but thought I would ask for your help too. Virginia.

Dear Virginia: It sounds like a good idea, but I hope you will pitch the phone etiquette class towards older kids as eight and ten -year-olds don’t need a phone. For readers who are not familiar with cotillion, it is a class, often taught in the South, where kids are taught to be polite, respectful members of their community. To quote Southern Living,  it’s a rite of passage…parents see them as a way for their children to learn social graces.

Cotillion may be old-fashioned, but, whenever we have beginners, it’s useful to provide some training and hands-on instruction. Think of teens as “provisional drivers.”
We don’t let new drivers on the road until they spend many hours in the classroom, and then on the road practicing with experienced drivers. Since tween users will spend upwards of 7 hours a day with their phones your class might get them off to a better start.

To help you organize this class, and make the material memorable for young people, I came up with an acronym called, “POLITE.”  Here are some “polite ideas” for the lesson plan:


P: Person-to-person connectivity should always take priority over the phone. In the presence of other people, it’s vital to put down the phone and connect one-to-one. This rule holds whether you are at home with your parents, or eating out with friends. A couple of years ago, the term P-Phub entered our vernacular. It describes situations where people feel dissed and left out because the people they with are prioritizing attention to their phones. That said, in modern friendships phone users, especially teens, like to meet in person and share favorite pictures, videos, and texts back and forth.

O: ”Off” stands for the ‘off’ button, usually found on the side of the device. From time to time users need to activate it so that they  reset the system and get it working again. It’s also important to be ‘off’, after you have spent time online.  Refresh your own system by taking a trip outside and walk or bike, but leave the phone at home. And, in the evening, an hour or so before bedtime, turn the phone off completely (or put it in airplane mode). Importantly, situate it in a different room so that you do not disrupt the quality of your sleep.

L: Likes are well, likeable. The problem is that on social media they create a false sense of friendship and self-worth. They provide the veneer of friendship, but do not substitute for real conversation, exchange, and empathy. Teens on social media challenge themselves to have the most followers and the greatest number of likes on social media. But these are often just numbers and that do not nourish real relationships. 

I: The information pushed to us via online news and social media occurs in a filter bubble. At the center of the filter bubble is “I.” An algorithm dishes up content which is particular to “I’s” expressed interests or tastes. It is designed to keep your attention and time spent on the screen.  Your opinions, attitudes and predilections- are continually being reinforced. “I” can limit your openness to new ideas and insights. In last week’s column, DearSmartphone suggested how to seek an alternative, a daily antidote.

T: Turn down your voice  and turn down notifications. These are the two issues that will come to mind when your students reflect on digital etiquette. Yes, it is bad manners to speak on the phone in a public place when others might overhear the conversation. And it’s not a good idea to wear headsets in public either. It’s easy to get distracted and trip, or walk into a moving vehicle. Text notifications provide similar distraction and there’s no need to have every app notify you on demand. Tamp them down.

E: Etiquette for phones is important for everyone’s well-being, not just new users. The steps we can take are important: turn down (avoid) conversations in public and those pesky notifications. Observe your personal filter bubbles, and most of all, be present for real people in your life. These all coincide with the principals of mindfulness. When you resist multitasking, and give your full attention to the moment phone etiquette takes care of itself. 

Good luck with the class for tweens, and your effort to set them on a polite path. Let me know how it goes and circle back for more ideas.