5 Ways to Help Students Develop Digital Empathy

Angry child - Developing Coping Skills

With the online space comes a whole new way to learn, communicate, and most importantly, socialize.

However, there’s a fear that people entering the digital space may not be able to be aware of the feelings and concerns of others online. To be able to maintain such an experience is known as “digital empathy”, something we consider to be very important as the digital age only continues to expand.

Digital empathy is now considered vital for respectful collaboration and communication with friends, peers, and coworkers.

The same is for our youth. If students are able to understand that digital empathy, they are more likely to have improved interactions with the people around them, both online and in real life.

If you’re considering helping your students develop their digital empathy, here are the three key factors that make up a digitally empathetic person:

  • Able to demonstrate compassion for an online person’s needs, feelings, and concerns.
  • Can respect an online’s person’s perspective and ideas, even if they don’t agree
  • Have an understanding of how their actions online can affect others.

If you want to assist your students in enhancing their digital empathy skills, here are five ways to help with the process.


Teach Students How to Regulate Their Emotions

Students can have a difficult time understanding how to regulate their own emotions; they’re kids, after all. However, it’s important that they learn that the person on the other side of the screen, the one that has them all riled up, is also just a person.

Regulating emotions requires teaching students how to deal with the negative emotions that will inevitably come from interacting with people on the internet. Students need to learn skills such as recognizing when to walk away from an argument, when to take a break away from the computer, and how to seek help from people in real life.


Help Them to Form Connections

A student who is able to form a connection with another person (specifically someone who has similar experiences) will be able to gain more perspective about their own experiences and behaviors.

Allow students to wonder how they would feel in specific situations, whether it be just a rude comment or being lied to. By acknowledging their own emotions, it allows students to put themselves in the shoes of others, which is the core driver in empathy as an emotion.


Teach Netiquette

According to Virginia Shea, there are 10 core rules when it comes to internet etiquette. They’re fairly common sense rules, so if any might be a surprise to you, make sure to take a look back on how you act in your own digital life.

  1. Remember the person on the other end is human.
  2. Behave online as you would in real life.
  3. Know what is or isn’t appropriate in different areas of cyberspace.
  4. Remember that the person on the other end has a life of their own.
  5. Make yourself look and act good in your writing.
  6. Share knowledge.
  7. Minimize arguments.
  8. Respect the privacy of others.
  9. Don’t abuse any power you may have.
  10. Be forgiving of the mistakes of others.


Validate Emotions

If a student feels hurt, worried, sad, or uncomfortable, the last thing you should do is dismiss them. In order to develop proper empathy (both in the digital world and in real life), you need to be able to validate their feelings.

Let them know that what they feel is both real and important. If a student feels uncomfortable with an online interaction, you need to be able to recognize it, or else being hurt by such an interaction can lead to poor emotional empathy.


Build Up Their Vocabulary

Sometimes a student is unable to properly understand another online user’s emotions because they don’t quite know what it is themselves. This is why vocabulary is important.

Not only can it help to properly express what you want to say, but it can help you to understand the needs of others, as well. One suggestion you could use is sorting vocabulary by color. Blue for sad, yellow for happy, red for mad; that sort of thing. Building a hefty vocabulary bank or word was will go a long way in helping students develop emotional empathy.