Founding fodder: George Washington's words to live by

Founding fodder: George Washington's words to live by

The Founding Fathers didn't give any thought to the internet or social media, but their wisdom can still provide wise counsel that applies in modern times. Today on Safer Internet Day, and every day, kids should apply this George Washington quote to their online behavior:

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few.”

Yes, you'll probably have to explain that "intimate" was commonly used in a different way back in the 18th century than it is today, but it's worth that quick detour.

In that one short sentence, Washington highlights the importance of both kindness and privacy, and makes it clear that there is a distinction between the two. Those two principles are key to making the internet better and safer, given that today is Safer Internet Day. Making the internet safer, though, is something we should work towards every day.

The internet an amazing tool, and we want our kids to be able to get all the good and avoid the bad. Following Washington's advice makes that more likely when you apply to online behavior.

"Be courteous to all" is pretty clear, but you don't have to be online for long to see that it is a command many people disregard. Teach kids to be kind online. That can happen in many different ways, including but not limited to:

  • treating others as they would like to be treated;
  • complimenting and saying nice things to others;
  • liking and/or sharing positive content;
  • asking others before posting images of them;
  • disagreeing politely, and recognizing that not all disagreements need to be posted online;
  • taking your time, because courtesy often flies out the window when you're rushing and it's wise to pause and think before you post;
  • knowing how to apologize, both online and in person;
  • remembering that you can say "no" politely but firmly, be that when someone asks you to say or post something you're not comfortable with and especially when someone you don't know makes a request, be it for a photo, in person meet up, etc.;
  • look out for others - when you see someone being harassed or bullied, take action, including telling an adult and reporting it.

Being "intimate with few" means taking several steps that keep individuals, especially kids, safe online. Those steps include:

  • using privacy settings whenever possible*;
  • not sharing photos with people you don't know;
  • sharing only photos that you'd be comfortable showing your grandparents or having on a billboard in Times Square (you can go a step farther and tell kids know that they can interpret "intimate" in a more modern context and take it as a directive to keep your clothes on in all photos and don't engage in sexting);
  • turning off location services, because being intimate includes knowing precisely where you are;
  • not posting your phone number, address, or other contact information;
  • keeping your passwords private and share them only with parents, not friends;
  • remembering that there are adults in your inner circle who are available whenever you need help, because being online isn't easy, you don't have to have it all figured out, and you don't have to handle difficult situations by yourself.

* Please note that this is very different from thinking that what you post online is private - never assume that what you post will be private. In fact, assume that whatever you put online will be shown to relatives, future employers, college admissions officers, and future in-laws.

You May Also Like: A letter to my 13-year-old daughter about being safe and kind online

Prior Post: 14 pieces of advice for teens

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Our Founding Fathers were full of wisdom. They may not have known about Instagram and Snapchat, but this sage advice from George Washington is important for our kids to follow when online. It will keep them both safe and kind, and that's a win-win.

Filed under: Parenting, Technology

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