Learn these 3 bad behaviors to avoid on social media & avoid a damaged online reputation.

The lyrics “stick and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is a common retort for little ones in playground conflicts. But these lyrics couldn’t be more wrong and more damaging. Words can hurt in a wounding attempt to tease, mock or bully. Words can sear when they become slurs, threats, and assaults.

While growing up, many of use heard the threat in school — “this is going on your permanent record!” We questioned whether the third-grade teacher and middle school principals really had a permanent record for each of us. But it turns out, in this digital age, those teachers were right.

There is a permanent record on social media and people actually look at it!

Not only are friends and school administrators looking at posts that you and your child may make, college admissions officers and future employers see the posts as well. And 1 in 5 employers say they make judgments about those posts, potentially at a cost to you.

The costs to poor etiquette on social media is obvious when one is the victim of such bad behavior. However, let’s look at the cost to the offender who spews such negativity on social media, how to make amends for and to avoid a future lapse in judgement.


3 Bad Behaviors to Avoid on Social Media


1) It’s more than just curse words.

Perhaps it has occurred to you and your family that dropping the “f-bomb” or calling someone a “you know what” is a terrible idea on social media. Negative posts go far beyond the swear words and off-color language.

Even references to a swear word or an insulting emoji can be cause for judgement from the outside world. College and career admissions officers wonder about a person’s character upon reviewing applications and sometimes browsing social media can give them a heads up to an applicant’s stability.

Rude and insensitive comments, sexual innuendos, online bullying, even without the expletives, gives one cause to pause. And certainly, pictures and references alluding to, or directly referring to, drug and alcohol use is a big red cup flag.

The picture and post may just prompt them to go on to the next applicant. And the words of the principal harken, “It’s in your permanent file!”


2) Resisting the “Sorry Not Sorry” attitude.

Most of us will have an opportunity in life to make an amend. We are not perfect and sometimes we (or our kids) get caught up in the moment, join the crowd, or just make a stupid mistake.

Rather than defending our actions as to why what we said or did was “Just kidding- JK- LOL,” “wasn’t my fault,” “I didn’t say it,” or “you just don’t understand,” we might try one of these simple responses:

  • “You’re right.”
  • “I see your point.”
  • “I am very sorry that what I said hurt you.”
  • “I’ll take down the post.”

This is a simple beginning to an amend, but it does not end here. A true amend means taking responsibility and then making a change.

In the event of an insensitive or offensive post or picture, you should heartfully apologize to the offended party in person and then post the apology online with insight as to why such a post was inappropriate. And then take down the original post.

Not only might this reaction preserve your public reputation, it will more importantly help heal a wound experienced by someone who was victimized.


3) Not Thinking Before You Hit Send. 

Think before you speak, act, tweet, snap or Instagram something that you would regret or would embarrass you or someone else. If your remarks are a retort to someone else’s impulse, compose your remarks offline, rehearse it with a friend and then try and have a face-to-face conversation. 

Model this discipline for your children (and perhaps for many adults around you). Consider that social media is not the best platform in which to have serious discussions or announcements. 

And then use the tried and true test — “could my grandmother read my post or be in this conversation with me without offending her?”  And if Grandma doesn’t give you the “TTYN” (talk to you never) on her social media account, then maybe you’re doing all right.

About Charlene Underhill Miller, PhD

Charlene Underhill Miller, PhD is a psychotherapist in Southern California with private practices in Santa Monica and Malibu. She helps parents, children, couples and individuals. A graduate of UCLA and Fuller School of Psychology, Dr. Miller also is involved in school-based education and consultation, an adjunct faculty member of the Pepperdine University Graduate School of Psychology, a wife, mother, and stepmother. 

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