How to teach digital empathy

In honour of Safer Internet Day, the UK Safer Internet Centre talks to ET about empathy online, and how to incorporate it into PSHE lessons

For Safer Internet Day on Tuesday 6th February, the UK Safer Internet Centre has created a range of new educational resources tailored for 3-18 year olds looking at digital empathy.

Digital empathy and why it matters

Understanding the feelings of others is fundamental to communication and connection. However, experiencing empathy online can be more challenging than face-to-face communication, as you don’t get the immediate feedback of seeing someone’s facial expressions and body language. That is why learning to understand and communicate emotions in a digital context is an essential skill, and even more important given that the internet plays such an integral role in children’s friendships.

Four ways to teach digital empathy

  • Use role-play, stories and scenarios

Reading stories, and exploring character roles and scenarios are a great way to get young people stretching their empathy muscles. Stories about the digital world get children thinking about the characters’ emotions, allowing them to put themselves in their shoes. This is a particularly great way for younger children to develop their empathy skills, without having to understand the concept of empathy itself.

To get started why not download the Safer Internet Day Education Pack for 3-7s which includes an interactive story that explores the impact of negative comments online, or the pack for 7-11s which includes a drama activity to help put this into action.

For older students, giving them a scenario can be an interesting way of exploring different responses to a situation; getting pupils to play different roles can give them a chance to explore different perspectives. It’s important with activities like this to set clear expectations and ground rules at the start – the PSHE Association have some great guidelines to help with this.

  • Give young people the language to use

The main challenge with digital empathy is that it can be hard to know what other online users are feeling. Giving students the language (and emojis!) to express more complex emotions is a great exercise to get them acknowledging their own feelings. Being more in touch with their own emotions is the first step to recognising how others might be feeling.

The Safer Internet Day Education Packs for 7-11s and 11-14s both include the Quick Activity ‘How does being online make me feel?’ This task works as a great conversation starter for pupils to explore their emotions in more depth.

Safer Internet Day comes to the UK on 6th February
  • Teach positive commenting

Often when we think about empathy, we think about understanding negative emotions, but sharing the joy of receiving a compliment is a great way to explore empathy too. Simple classroom activities can help begin a discussion about online kindness: for example, write each child’s name on a sheet of paper (or wear white t-shirts) and have their classmates write them positive comments. Children will get to share how good it feels to not only receive compliments but give them too!

To help think about positive posting more broadly, take a look at the ‘How to post positively’ Quick Activity, which can be found in the Safer Internet Day Education Pack for 11-14s and 14-18s.

  • Create a culture of acceptance

For some young people, it can be really difficult to acknowledge that different people respond in different ways and that you can feel one way but somebody else might feel differently. Talk about the importance of remaining non-judgemental both online and offline and ensure students know that your classroom is a safe space to explore their feelings.

Take a look at the SID TV films for 7-11s, 11-14s and 14-18s to hear first-hand a range of different perspectives from pupils across the UK. Do your pupils agree or disagree with what they hear? There’s no right or wrong answer here – it’s about sharing and listening with respect!

Help create a better internet this Safer Internet Day

Safer Internet Day provides a key opportunity to empower children and young people to use technology responsibly, respectfully, critically and creatively. It’s a moment when families and schools can spark conversations about these issues and encourage children to speak up about any worries they may have.

Together we can make a real difference. Last Safer Internet Day the campaign reached 42% of UK children aged 8-17 years – an incredible reach for a one-day campaign. Most importantly, as a result of hearing about the day, 1 in 4 children spoke up about something that had been worrying them online.

Get involved in Safer Internet Day by visiting, where you can download free resources, register your school as an official supporter and join the #SID2018 social media campaign by creating your #ItStartsWithUs pledges.

We can all help to make the internet a better place. Join with us on 6th February 2018 to be part of the change.