youth ethics on the internet

Education Week has a story out on research into young people’s use of the internet and how they process the ethics of life online. The study indicates that ethical decision making comes into play for kids these days much earlier than in previous generation, at least in part because of the pressures of online participation.

“Even though many young people may not be ready to participate in the wider communities that digital media open up to them, there is no controlling information about yourself or others that gets posted,” said Howard Gardner, the project’s co-director. “It’s a situation that’s foisted upon young persons who are not ready for it.”

Mr. Gardner, an eminent psychologist best known for his multiple-intelligences theory, is working with a team of researchers at Project Zero, the research center he helped create at the graduate school, to study how students’ use of digital media affects the development of their “ethical minds.”

The issues of privacy, community, and intellectual property are complex ones, and it is fascinating to see young people articulate their ethical perspectives on their everyday online activities.

2 thoughts on “youth ethics on the internet”

  1. I don’t buy this. I just listened to Gardner’s interview (see 2:40-3:10). His claim:

    1.) We evolved to interact with small groups (50-100 people max). Or morality developed with this small group in mind.
    2.) The world has changed. Digital media mean that we can actually interact with and be viewed by many many more people. We aren’t equipped to morally deal with such larger worlds.
    3.) Adults have experience, so they can make sense of the potential ethical and interactional dilemmas that come with much larger scale interactions.
    4.) Children do not have experience. See point 1. So they think in smaller moral/ethical/interactional worlds. So the dilemmas are harder for them to negotiate than the adults (because they have less experience to fight their evolution).

    I don’t know about you, but thinking about the difference between my parents and children of my friends (who are, say 7) – children have a far better understanding of the world of technology than my parents. It’s hard for me to believe the evolutionary story. Or, that the evolutionary story is more powerful than, say, living in a world for 20-50 years where such technology was NOT a part of your everyday life (unlike kids, for whom it always has been).


  2. The newest issue of the AJS has an article that suggests that the best predictor of online *emailing* skills (in terms of minimizing misunderstandings) is experience with one’s interaction partner. Not exactly on this subject — sorry, don’t have access to edweek from my university — but an interesting proposition in relation to arguments about generational differences in internet skills.


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