How to give children a moral compass in Cyberspace

Within cyberspace where people roam with little to no immediate governing restrictions, how does one impress on the youth and young adults that are developing their moral compass what is acceptable from a moral and ethical perspective?

Nancy Willard points out in her article Moral Development in the Information Age that the framework of the Internet has been designed such that it is disconnected and decentralized. As a result; no one agency can effectively police and dictate morality and ethical responsibility, therefore decisions are widely left up to individuals (Willard, 1997).

Because of four key factors that Willard points out in her article, namely: a) Lack of affective feedback; b) reduced fear of risk of detection; c) New environment requires new rules; and d) perceptions of social injustice (Willard, 1997), it seems that it is difficult for individuals to make the transition between the “real world” and the “digital world”. And because morality and ethics in cyberspace are driven mainly off of individual decisions, it becomes even more paramount that these issues be address during the growth and development of today’s youth (Willard, 1997).

As a result; I believe that first and foremost in order to expand morality and ethics into the Information Age, there must be an agreement to the ideals of universal propositions, like those defined by Turiel: concepts of Justice, rights and welfare (Willard, 1997).

Apart from this central foundation, according to further studies by Hoffman and Baumrind, in order to teach internalized moral responsibility, it is imperative that parents, teachers and other influential men and women begin to help children and young adults focus on the consequences of their actions based on these universals, rather than focusing on the responsibility to follow a set of rules (Willard, 1997).

By means of this approach, we prepare the future generation to mature in their own idealizations of what is morally acceptable and unacceptable even in a world where boundaries are largely determined by individualistic principles (Willard, 1997), and where unexplored moral challenges present themselves frequently.


Willard, N. (1997). Moral Development in the Information Age. Retrieved July 30, 2009, from