Today’s kids practically cut their teeth on electronic devices. Naturally, that doesn’t mean they always know how to conduct themselves responsibly online. From the time they start interacting with technology, begin social media training your child. Not only will you inspire them to build a positive digital footprint, you’ll help keep them safe. Here is how.

Manners 101. You may not think of one influencing the other, but social media training begins with the basic manners you teach from the time your child is a toddler. Manners emphasize the importance of treating others respectfully and thoughtfully.

Create a digital citizenship contract. Online behavior is an extension of our real life. Remind your kids to treat others online in the same courteous way they treat people in person. By creating a family digital citizenship contract, you can open the discussion about appropriate online conduct and clarify your family’s values, rules and consequences. Even if your child won’t be interacting with others just yet, contracts offer a good way to begin establishing expectations and basic rules around electronics.

Establish boundaries. Too much online use can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety and can affect a child’s quality of sleep. Create “sacred spaces” or tech-free zones like during meal time to encourage family conversation. Integrate unplugged time to allow for unstructured creativity, reading and play. Have your children turn in their phones or other devices at bedtime to ensure adequate rest.

Model appropriate social interaction. Your kids watch and learn from you. Show your kids how you interact in social media, including examples of your posts and photos. Grow conscious of when and where you use your smartphone. Put your phone aside while driving, when your child is talking to you and when interacting with others. Make eye contact and show courtesy toward others to help your kids learn that the person standing in front of them is the greater priority at the moment.

Stay safe. Most major social media sites require that members are 13 and older in compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA). Many of these social networks can expose kids to mature content and sketchy individuals. To familiarize a younger child with social media, check out sites like YourSphere.com, which require parental permission, is COPPA compliant, and helps kids learn the ins and outs of online interaction in a safe environment.

Take advantage of teachable moments. Use the news, popular television shows and trips to the mall as opportunities to discuss appropriate online and offline social behavior. Talk about risks like predatory behavior, cyberbullying and social media gossip and how to best manage these issues. Ask your child questions: What would you do if someone made you feel uncomfortable, asked personal questions or bullied you online? 

Monitor and discuss. Go through your child’s electronic devices, review texts, photos and profiles. Make sure all of your child’s friends are people she actually knows in real life. Is she interested in downloading a particular app? Review it with her and discuss any concerns. CommonSenseMedia.org is a helpful resource for making an informed decision about apps, sites and games.

Strike a healthy balance. Extracurricular activities help balance out your child’s offline and online interactions, while reinforcing their presentation and leadership skills.

Through a slow and steady approach, you can empower your child with the skills to manage social media with confidence and poise.

Christa Melnyk Hines is the author of Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World. To learn more, visit ChristaMelnykHines.com.