Sandpits are the coolest place for a toddler. So much to do, so much to explore, so many possibilities. As we walked towards the sandpit I scanned for dangers, checked out how many children there, noted the pathway to the duck pond and then turned to my toddler and said “now remember to play nicely, use kind words, don’t take other people’s toys and have fun!” I gave him a kiss and watched him run off squealing with joy. I watched him build castles, I watched as he asked nicely if he could use another child’s bucket, I watched as he politely said thank you, and I watched as he firmly told another toddler to stop knocking his castles down.

It was only when the toddler went to hit my son with a spade did I intervene. The kids went their separate ways and played happily. What happened in the sandpit was a living example of growth and development for our children learning acceptable interaction and behaviour with others requiring my supervision not my actual involvement.

The sandpit of the teen years is the cyber sandpit commonly known as Facebook. My teenagers enjoy it, as do all of their friends. They spend all day at school together but there is always more to discuss at home – sometimes the most important ‘stuff’ takes place online, apparently. (It used to be the telephone for me and my bestie).

When allowing my teenagers to have Facebook we went through the mandatory: make sure security settings are tight; only friend people you know in real life; block people who you do not like; let us know if anyone is saying/posting things harmful; don’t ‘share’ offensive posts (bla bla bla as my teens would say). There are many other safety rules, but the importance of cyber etiquette was as important as cyber safety, something that is often forgotten. The most important conversation we have, and not on just one occasion, is the ‘respecting others chat’. Just as I did to my toddlers, I say to my teenagers ‘play nice’.

Facebook time is crunch time for parents, an exercise in how well you have built those avenues of trust and open communication with your teens. Have you taught your children respect for themselves enough to be able to remove themselves from an antagonist in the sandpit? Have you instilled in your teenagers the virtues of treating other people with respect? Have you established a level of trust to enable respect for your young adult’s privacy as well as the openness required for your teen to come to you if they need to? Have you instilled the importance of how to talk to people and to be sensitive to others?

Cyber etiquette and responsible behaviour is in fact no different to face-to-face etiquette, other than it is easier to let that etiquette slip sitting in front of a screen. As well as any other normal interaction, we should always be discussing the importance of not what we say but how others can interpret it. Having a Facebook page yourself and ‘friending’ your teen will allow you to see plenty of examples of how things should not be said/done. And it’s a perfect time to emphasise that grammar and spelling does not need to be compromised because it’s ‘just a status update’.

We invest time in our toddlers guiding them in social awareness and interaction, important lessons which require reiterating and using examples to get the message across. The same investment in time for teenagers is time well spent.

Teens will too soon be working, attending university and entering the big world way beyond our control and supervision, so don’t waste this precious time freaking out about cyber sandpit, instead use it to reiterate good relations with peers and others through the various means of communication available.

Let these natives to the cyber sandpit know the safety boundaries and have faith that you have raised your kids to respect others. Stay observant but not obtrusive. Your teen might have someone say something nasty about them, they might say something nasty back, but even that is a learning experience. If a toddler is given the space and opportunity to learn then so should teens. I am confident my teens are good respectful human beings inside and outside the cyber world.