Talking to children and young people about Digital Ethics

To encourage children and young people to use media sensibly and critically, it is necessary to make them aware of the risks. In order to recognize how children and youth themselves can act safely, competently and reflectively on the Internet – it is essential to talk about ethics and values in the digital world. To this end, it is important to address social and ethical issues in connection with technical innovations, to develop an awareness of ethics, and to adopt a reflective attitude toward digital media.

Digital Ethics deals with the question of responsibility for virtual activity and reflects on the conditions for a good, successful life. However, Digital Ethics does not pursue a prescriptive approach, i.e. it does not prescribe which decision is the right one. This requires each individual to make decisions competently and on his/her own, and to take responsibility for them. It is therefore the task of all of us to shape the digital world in a humane way. Children and young people must be made aware that they are also responsible for their own actions in the digital realm.

When talking to adolescents, care should be taken to establish a reference to the media with which the young people themselves are intensively involved. Digital Ethics can only be conveyed in a context with which children and young people are familiar. It can be helpful to pick up the questions of children and young people and search for an answer together with them. In the course of the discussion, young people develop their own ideas about rules for good coexistence on the net. To this end, alternative courses of action in certain digital situations can be considered with the young people. Discussions should provide an opportunity to reflect together on the specific use of digital media. The aim is to promote responsible interaction with each other, with the flood of data and the protection of privacy in the networked world, as well as to respect the dignity of the individual, self-determination and freedom of action in the virtual world.

A central question that can be discussed is: “How can we act in virtual spaces so that we don’t lose sight of values and norms?” To stimulate discussion, the keywords “cyberbullying” and “hate speech on the Internet” can be included in the conversations. The aim is to introduce young people to a culture of communication that focuses on empathy rather than contempt and exposure. For a better understanding, it makes sense to refer to the young people’s own experiences. During the conversation, it is important to clearly convey information about cyberbullying and hate speech on the net. It can be discussed whether young people behave differently in the virtual world than in the real world. There is usually a discrepancy between the analog self and the virtual self. Youth might think about why some people behave differently in digital life than offline. The digital world often expresses different values, which can be explored with the young people based on their usage behavior by looking at their own experiences and contributions online.

Contributions in digital networks are never value-free. It is therefore important to consciously reflect critically on media content in order to see through the mechanisms of manipulation and not to believe all published content. Forming opinions on the Internet requires the ability to distinguish fake news, lies, conspiracy theories, from facts and realities This should be a central point in conversations. To facilitate this, reference can be made to the 10 Commandments of Digital Ethics. Turn to the false reports and rumors on the Internet that the young people themselves have been confronted with in order to tie in with the young people’s everyday experiences. Discuss different reasons for false reports and how they can be identified. A checklist can be created together with the young people to serve as a support for recognizing fake news, tall tales and manipulated images on the net.


In discussions, young people should be made aware that the operators of social networks and communication services are only interested in collecting their data, exploiting it and thus generating profit. In most cases, young people are not aware of what social network providers do with their data. In this context, the topic of “data protection” can be discussed with the children and young people. They can discuss what tools and options are available to protect their own data. It is worth thinking about the data traces that are left behind, e.g. when filling out lottery forms, customer cards, etc., and also about the consequences of this. Discussions can also include the fact that the protection of privacy plays an important role in a functioning democracy. Without privacy, it is much more difficult to form one’s own opinion freely and independently, and without free opinion-forming, there can be no functioning democracy.

At the end of the discussion young people have the opportunity to express their ideas, wishes and demands for living together on the net.

Finally, a few important tips: Take enough time for discussions and give the children and young people the opportunity to talk about their own experiences. This can generate new impulses for discussion. If possible, open questions should be asked to encourage reflection and self-reflection. Avoid lectures and repetitions and admit openly if you do not know something. Then inquire together with the children and young people.


If you are viewing this website, you have certainly become aware of the game p@th, play and think. In this game you will find many suggestions on various Digital Ethics topics – this game is an effective stimulus to talk with children and young people about Digital Ethics. You will find here, some hints for your work with adolescents, e.g. how to ask meaningful and open questions, how to have meaningful conversations, how to see through mechanisms of manipulation and how to defend democracy online together. It’s about social interaction, communication, information and joint reflection.