As the Internet has become more and more central to our lives, our online and offline identities have become less and less separate. Where the Internet was once a place where nobody knew we were dogs and we lived Second Lives as customizable avatars, today we mostly surf the Web as ourselves.

Do the right thing

You may not realize it, but you have a lot of power when you’re online: you can cheer people up, make them laugh, and help to make your school, your town or even the whole world a better place. The flip side is that what you do can make things worse, too. That’s why you have to think about what you say and do online, and try your best to do the right thing.

Doing the right thing online mostly comes down to the three R’s of respect: respect people’s privacy, respect people’s feelings and respect people’s property.

Behaving Ethically Online: Ethics and Empathy

In this lesson, students are introduced to the idea that “hot” emotional states such as anger or excitement can make it harder for them to control how they act. They also discuss the concept of empathy and look at the ways in which digital communication can make it harder to feel empathy for other people. Students then read scenarios that portray two sides of an online conflict and consider how to resolve them, using their discussion to build a list of tools for emotional management and conflict resolution online. Finally, students create a media product that explains and reminds them of one of those tools.

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Building Empathy in Children and Teens - Tip Sheet

How can we help young people develop affective empathy? The best approach depends on how old they are. Children begin to understand empathy as toddlers, but at this stage they are so completely “in the moment” that the best approach is to watch out for situations where we can model and talk about empathy with them. When a child does something or witnesses something that makes somebody feel sad, quietly explain to them how and why it made them feel that way. (It can be valuable to do this with other emotions, such as fear and happiness, as well.)

Empathy is at the heart of ethics. In order to develop a sense of right and wrong that goes past just being afraid of punishment or hoping for a reward, we have to be able to put ourselves in another person’s shoes.

As we grow, we pass through distinct stages of moral development in which our ethical thinking is based on different principles: the desire to avoid punishment (Stage I) and the desire to obtain rewards (Stage II), which are then followed by a wish to fit in and conform in order please others (Stage III) and a duty to follow rules, laws and social codes (Stage IV). Last comes the sense of participating in a social contract (Stage V) and, finally, a morality that looks to universal ethical principles of justice and the equality and dignity of all people (Stage VI).

It’s important to make young people aware of the laws that apply to what they do online, as well as to have household rules that cover online behaviour.

Despite all of the concerns about what youth are doing with digital media, MediaSmarts’ study Young Canadians in a Wireless World (YCWW) has found that not only are most kids not getting in trouble online, they’re often being actively kind and thoughtful towards people they know.

One of the biggest ethical decisions young people have to make is how to handle other people’s personal information. Because nearly all of the services and platforms youth use online are networked, every time a friend or contact posts something they have to decide whether and how to share it. As well, youth may inadvertently share others’ personal information when posting their own content.

Closely associated with intellectual property – but slightly different – is plagiarism.

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