We generally think of our kids’ online and offline lives as being two separate things. In reality, they constantly overlap, flowing back and forth face-to-face in the schoolyard and through texts and social networks at home. But on the Internet there are lots of moral and ethical choices that don’t have to be made offline.
Our core values don’t rely on technology – but we do need to help our kids understand how technology can impact and challenge how we behave. The foundation for helping kids to behave ethically is to teach them to respect themselves and other people. Online, this mostly falls into three categories: respect people’s privacy, respect people’s feelings and respect people’s property.
Respect People’s Privacy
Because nearly all of the services and platforms young people use are networked, every time a friend posts something they have to decide if – and how – to share it. Unfortunately, they often ignore the ethical issues of this choice, expecting others to tell them if they don’t want something to be shared.
Respect People’s Feelings
Sometimes it can be hard to remember that the people we communicate with online are real people who have feelings. This is because we don’t see or hear many of the things that trigger empathy in us, like a person’s tone of voice, body language or facial expression.
Respect People’s Property
One of the most common ethical decisions kids face online has to do with how they access and use things like music, games and videos. So much stuff is easily available online that it’s hard to resist “putting your hand in the cookie jar,” especially since we’re not reminded – as we would be if we were to sneak into a movie or steal a video game from a store – that people are affected by what we do. There’s also lots of confusion, among both kids and adults, about what’s permitted and what’s not. We need to teach kids to think about whether they’re watching, listening to and playing things online in a way that shows respect for the people who made it and own it.
To help parents talk about these issues with their kids, MediaSmarts has created a series of resources entitled Stay on the Path: Teaching Kids to be Safe and Ethical Online. This includes an audiovisual tutorial designed to give parents the information they need and advice on how to talk to their kids about ethics, empathy and respect. We also have a series tipsheets for parents with just the facts you need on how to steer kids towards legitimate sources of music and video online, how to avoid unwanted content while they’re surfing the Web, and how to treat people with respect when they’re online.
For teachers, we offer a series of four classroom lessons for Grades 5-6 on finding good content online, telling good information from bad, avoiding unwanted content and finding legitimate sources of music and videos: