woman using computer mouse

No. 3: Think twice before hitting return

There is a problem with commenting back and forth online: We don't have the subtle facial and verbal cues that we subconsciously rely on when we communicate in person.

That's why those emoticons -- stupid as they are -- are actually useful, when used properly. There's a difference between: "Those pants make your butt look big" and "Those pants make your butt look big. :)"

And when those interpersonal cues are missing, people can misunderstand a comment and a conversation can take a turn for the worse. Once people start letting their emotions off the leash, things get heated. Unfortunately, once you hit "Return," you no longer have control of the statement and it's forever committed to the ether.

Once something is on the Internet, it's out of your hands. As the saying goes, once you've squeezed it, you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube.

You also can't follow the rules if you don't know them ...

Locker in school hallway

No. 2: Know your school's policy

This one harkens back to the earlier point about being respectful of others, but you should also be respectful to your institution. Your school probably has rules governing your use of social media, and learning those rules can keep you out of hot water.

In some cases, schools outright forbid their teachers from having Facebook pages. Your school may also have strict guidelines for a club's Facebook page.

Of course, they can't keep you from personally having a page and you can talk about whatever you want there, but they may have limits in place about what -- in their name -- you can do.

Whether or not these policies are legal or ethical is a debate for another venue, the point here is that you should know and understand your school's policies.

But there is one social media rule that students and parents should know above all else ...


No. 1: Be sure to stay safe

This is Internet 101, and the source material for so many Lifetime network movies, but it bears repeating: Be safe online. Be careful about what information you give out, because it can be used against you.

If you're in a chat room or in a new environment, you should already know not to give out your last name or age, or any personally identifiable information.

But beyond that, take a look at your profile page on whatever social media platform you're using. Look at what information is available. Is your phone number on there? Are your privacy settings solid?

Posting a picture of yourself at track practice with a caption like "This is what we do every day from 3 to 5!" seems innocuous enough, but it can give creeps the information they want.