11/27/2012 10:36 am ET Updated Jan 27, 2013

For Kids to Play Well in the Same (Digital) Sandbox, Parents Must, Too

It's an odd phenomenon these days. We used to tell our kids to play well together and when it doesn't go so well and they become stubborn about apologizing we scratch our heads and wonder why. It's no big mystery, actually. Just look in the digital mirror. They learned how to treat their friends and "friends" by how we treat our friends, and "friends" as we interact with them in the adult sandbox.

The reality we often don't want to discuss is that the adult world isn't always that nice. Talking to friends and colleagues about this at a recent meeting, and during some recent Facebook "chats", the consensus is that the more connected we've become online the less disingenuous people have become offline. That is to say, our numbers may make us feel we have lots of friends, but they are really "friends." And, there's a world of difference between the two.

Friends are people we have a true connection with in the real, offline world. They are the people we call in the good times and bad times. They are the people we celebrate with and who help us when times are tough. These people tend to make up the minority of our social media lists.

"Friends" are people we may not know at all, expect online or via someone online. They may have interesting things to say or be part of a group that we find compelling. They may be colleagues in a professional circle. But, these are not people who know about what makes us tick. These people are not the people who know our true lives, our families and who are there to celebrate the ups and be with us during the downs. But, these are the majority of people on our social media lists.

While we can't change each other's behavior, we can change our own and that alone will influence our own kids and start to pay forward in society. Think about how powerful it will be if we all stop doing things like texting and driving, putting on headphones in public when we should be interacting with each other, putting away the digital devices at dinner (at home and out), and not using our cell phones when in public spaces. Think about how powerful it would be if we started paying attention to the offline connections that matter the most and focused our social media lives around those connections, tuning out the rest... perhaps not even engaging with those people on our lists at all.

There's no one way to use social media but there is one way to engage in the world: respectfully. I think we can all agree on that. If everyone can at least be more respectful of each other online and offline, regardless of how they choose to engage in the social media world, then we're well on our way to collective positive change. Show your kids by your actions you can do that to the people you interact with online and offline, and they'll learn that's how to treat people in those settings. Help your kids understand the difference between "friends" and friends and they'll not only find their social media experiences more meaningful but will be safer in those settings as the true strangers will now be eliminated.

In short, you play nice in the adult sandbox of life, your kids will play nicer in the kid sandbox of life. This is one game that if we all play it right and by the same rules, it will only pay itself forward in endless amazing ways. I'm game... you?