Happy child with painted hands

Ah, to be young again. Very young. When life was not so complicated and guidance on how to behave could be boiled down to a handful of easy-to-understand rules. As a former preschool teacher (and a parent), I know them well. And as a current resident of the digital world, I am exposed daily to the good and the not so good behavior out there in social media land. What would happen if we all adhered to a few simple guidelines? Maybe it’s time to take a page from the preschool playbook. Here are five ways you can improve the atmosphere and steer clear of off-putting mistakes.

      1. Share your toys.

        Ideas are like playthings. Meant for show-and-tell. Interesting to take apart to see how they’re made or how they could be made better. Perfect for building things. Fun for teaching or entertaining or figuring out new stuff. The digital world makes it easy to play around with ideas and invite all kinds of people in all kinds of places to participate. So don’t be stingy. Get your ideas out there. Generously give away things for free when you can. Just like kids eventually reach an age when it’s much more interesting to play with other kids, the age of social media is helping us see the benefits of pooling and trading ideas with lots of other idea generators.

      2. Be polite. And no bullying.

        We have all experienced (or perpetrated) unintentional email insults or had comments we posted taken the wrong way. In the absence of facial expressions and body language, it’s easy to misinterpret the meaning of language. And in the free-for-all that is social media, it’s not that hard to set off a firestorm of name calling or opinion bashing. When this happens, don’t fan the flames. Back away from the trolls. Don’t engage in the nastiness. Say excuse me and thank you like your mama taught you. And please, please lay off the all-caps and multiple exclamation points. We get it, you feel strongly. But use your words. On a related note, don’t virtually shove people around and don’t make fun of them. We are all putting ourselves out there. Please be respectful and honor boundaries.

      3. Don’t be a blabbermouth.

        Just because there are no online word count police, doesn’t mean you have permission to run on forever. The Twitter character limit is a very sane idea. It has forced our penchant for verbosity into a nice, small package. As all good writers know, there’s a place for long-form copy. But in our information-overloaded times, it’s good to be deliberate about word choice and considerate of your readers. Take a breath, find the essence of what you want to convey, and say it as succinctly as possible.

      4. Take turns.

        Other people have worthwhile things to say too. Give them a chance. Don’t hog the microphone. ‘Nuff said.

      5. Help each other.

        There’s a reason they call social media platforms communities. If someone’s looking for something and you know where it is, help them find it. If you love someone’s post, give it a like and a share. Give attribution where it’s due. I just love the geek boards because everyone’s so enthusiastic about helping solve each other’s problems. Many times, someone has stayed up late troubleshooting or writing code for me, a perfect stranger. It’s heartwarming.

So there you have it. If we could go back to toddlerhood, we would be learning and practicing this stuff. I like to think we could do it now. What do you think? Share it in the comments.

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