Teaching Empathy Through Digital Emotional Intelligence

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Teaching empathy to children plays a big factor in improving children’s online interaction. While it’s easy to assume that online conversations are easier than face-to-face interaction, Education Technology explains that online empathy can be more challenging since one cannot immediately see the other person’s body language and facial expressions.

With children spending more and more time online communicating, interacting and building relationships, children need to develop the skills of understanding and expressing their emotions in the digital space. Correspondingly, their guardians, teachers, and mentors should be equipped to know how to teach empathy. This includes teaching kids to be grateful, exhibit kindness and compassion, and distinguish positive and negative emotions.

It is for this reason that the UNESCO Digital Kids Asia-Pacific Framework for Education (DKAP Framework) features this critical aspect in the domain of Digital Emotional Intelligence, which promotes children’s emotional self-regulation, be aware of their emotions and the emotions of others, and express their emotions in a digital space.

Digital Emotional Intelligence in the Asia-Pacific Region

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Photo Courtesy of Tim Gouw via Unsplash

The DKAP study on students in Bangladesh, Fiji, Korea, and Viet Nam found that students in Korea had the highest average score on Digital Emotional Intelligence (3.22 out of 4), while students in Fiji, Bangladesh, and Viet Nam had scores of 3.18, 3.06, and 2.96, respectively.

Over 80 percent of students in Fiji reported that they are aware of their feelings in online settings. This is a notable reflection of one of the competencies of Digital Emotional Intelligence.

When a child is self-aware, she can easily understand and explain her moods, emotions, and drives. She is mindful of how these can affect herself and others in a digital environment. Since the digital world is full of both positive and negative opinions and influences, a child’s self-awareness can be her guide in responding to various interactions.

However, Fiji students were not as comfortable with freely expressing feelings online. A significantly smaller percentage (approximately 51 percent) reported that they could do so.

Moreover, compared to the other four competencies in this domain, self-regulation showed relatively high scores in all four countries – ranging from 3.12 to 3.30. This finding is indicative of how children can handle their emotions, moods, and impulses in any type of communication they encounter online.

On the other hand, the competencies that got the lowest scores among all four countries are empathy and interpersonal skills, ranging from 2.66 to 3.19 and 2.78 to 3.13, respectively. This finding suggests that educators can start with integrating these concepts into their classroom teaching so as to provide the foundations for children to understand how and why empathy is vital in fostering trust in online interactions, and interpersonal skills are essential in expressing their emotions in a way that uplifts their online relationships and interactions.

Teaching Digital Empathy

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Photo courtesy of Ty Lagalo via Unsplash

Teachers can teach digital empathy by reading stories in digital settings and doing role-play activities in the classroom to help children explore character roles and comprehend their emotions. It is also important for children to be guided with the appropriate language to use when conveying complex emotions. When they can recognize their feelings, it will be easier for them to identify the feelings of other online users.

As digital empathy generally revolves around self-expression and understanding people’s emotions; to foster it, parents must set appropriate boundaries, guide children to self-regulate their online behavior, and explore the meaning of digital citizenship with them. This includes showing compassion to other people, practicing online kindness, and realizing how their online actions can affect other people’s emotions.

When teaching digital empathy, both teachers and parents should explain to children how to make non-judgmental communications online and offline. Since people of different cultures, backgrounds, and personalities may respond differently than others, children must be able to practice non-judgmental approaches towards fellow users.

SEAMO INNOTECH – a regional center dedicated to developing innovative and technology-based solutions for the education needs of Southeast Asian countries – recently developed e-Citizenship: An e-Book for Teachers about Cyber Wellness and Digital Citizenship. As part of it, SEAMO INNOTECH cites the importance of empathy; they write that, when people know how to put themselves in other people’s shoes, they become more responsible in dealing with others. Thus, teaching empathy to children also strengthens their social awareness and relationship skills. In the same material, SEAMO INNOTECH outlines relevant resources for teachers that aim to help children reflect on empathy and their overall socio-emotional intelligence.

As technology continues to be integrated into the fabric of our daily lives, it is vital to educate children about empathy. By focusing on the DKAP domain of Digital Emotional Intelligence, educators and parents can help to create a safe and positive digital space for all.

Digital Emotional Intelligence is only one out of the five digital citizenship domains identified in the DKAP Framework. To learn more about the DKAP Framework, download the full report here.

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