Study Debretts and Hillary Clinton for online etiquette lessons

If teenagers can learn anything from them it is this: treat anything you post online as permanent and public, even if you think it's not

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On a day at the races, ladies should steer clear of miniskirts, spaghetti straps, and full-frontal nudity. When sharing a sex text that’s been screen-grabbed from Snapchat, always pass it to your left. The correct way to address an envelope to the Prime Minister is “The Rt Hon David Cameron, MP, The Prime Minister”, and not “snobbish pretender at No 10”... It’s hard for the layperson to imagine what advice will be in Debrett’s new etiquette classes for the 21st century because they’re compiled by experts, which is why they cost up to £750 per person, but we do know that they will contain a module for 13 to 16-year-olds all about how to behave online.

Sadly, this important new guide has come too late for one unnamed 14-year-old from the North of England, who finds his name on a police database after he was caught “making and distributing an indecent image”. The image was of himself, and he sent it to a 14-year-old female friend, who naturally forwarded it to all of their pals. This would be covered by the Debrett’s class on “the dangers of oversharing”, presumably, but his mum put it differently: “I think at best he was naive and at worst he was just a teenager,” she said, adding that sending nudie pictures to untrustworthy partners is “just how teenagers flirt these days”.

Way to go, unnamed northern mum, who seems to be a lot more clued up about teenage life than many self-appointed experts. The difficulty faced by anyone advising teenagers how to proceed online is that nobody over 20 has a scoobie what they get up to on their smartphones. In her recent book Girls, Uninterrupted: Steps for Building Stronger Girls in a Challenging World, Tanith Carey cited an LSE study from 2007, which found that 57 per cent of children aged nine to 19 had seen porn, but only 16 per cent of their parents thought they had. And that was eight years ago, when we were all so young.... Meanwhile, a report by the Internet Watch Foundation this March found 4,000 explicit photos and videos posted online in just three months, 667 of which featured children under 16.

It rather puts into context the recent spot of bother faced by Hillary Clinton, when her private emails were made public. In them, her unofficial adviser Sydney Blumenthal referred to William Hague as “disingenuous”, David Cameron as “a pretender” and “snobbish”, and Nick Clegg as suffering from “inbred arrogance”. How embarrassing when that got all around school.

If teenagers can learn anything from Debrett’s, unnamed boy and Hillary Clinton it is this: treat anything you post online as permanent and public, even if you think it’s not; do as you would be done by; and, as to the question from another module on the Debrett’s course, “Can I eat asparagus with my hands?”: yes, for pity’s sake, do – anything to keep them away from your laptop.