Meeting of Minds: Cross-Generational Dialogue of the Ethics of Digital Life


Today’s youth inhabit new digital social spaces foreign to most adults. These spaces offer unprecedented opportunities for connection, creativity, and community. At the same time they present challenges that are often either invisible to adults or exaggerated beyond reason.

It can be difficult for parents, educators, and other adults to talk about these challenges with young people, especially if they feel intimidated by youth who navigate sites like Facebook or master video games effortlessly.

This report aims to document what we learned through the Focus Dialogues, the first cross-generational online conversation on digital media and ethics. It will highlight how adults and youth think about ethical issues online through the use of direct quotes and information from the Dialogues and provide context around what we believe is the first step towards addressing issues relating to ethics in the digital age.

The Dialogues, held online in April 2009, were prompted by three organizations: Global Kids, Common Sense Media, and Harvard University’s GoodPlay Project. The project was born out of a sense of curiosity and experimentation. Can youth and adults have open and honest conversation in an online setting? What are the perceptions and tensions across generations when it comes to how we act on the Internet? Is it possible to reach common ground when it comes to digital ethics?

The organizations brought over 250 parents, teachers, and teens together for a three-week online conversation. Every day, participants responded to scenarios and questions presented, and shared thoughts and situations from their own lives. Posting over 2,500 messages over the course of the Dialogues, participants shared a wealth of perspectives. The findings summarized here are being disseminated in hopes that they might inform research, curricular development, and parenting in a space so often hard to navigate.

Media scholar Henry Jenkins is known to say, “Kids don’t need us watching over their shoulders; they need us to have their backs.” This report is shared in that spirit, as one more resource supporting parents and educators in their roles as caring adults in the lives of young people trying to navigate a new digital world.

Rafi Santo, Carrie James, Katie Davis, Shira Lee Katz, Linda Burch and Barry Joseph

<a rel="license" href=""><img alt="Creative Commons License" style="border-width:0" src="" /></a><br />This work is licensed under a <a rel="license" href="">Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License</a>.

Publication Date: 
December 3, 2009