Digital wellbeing expert
When we talk about building resilience in kids, every parent knows it’s about helping them develop the knowledge, confidence and strength to resist adversity, manage uncertainty and recover from upsetting or traumatic events. But when I talk about digital resilience, many parents seem unsure. That’s a shame for two reasons. One, because digital resilience is really just the same thing as ‘regular’ resilience just applied to the child’s interaction with the online world. Secondly, because digital resilience is so incredibly important. But just what is digital resilience? And why is it so important for kids to learn this skill now?
What is digital resilience?
The best definition of digital resilience I have seen so far comes from the Digital Resilience Working Group, The UK Council for Child Internet Safety:
“Digital resilience involves having the ability to understand when you are at risk online, knowing what to do if anything goes wrong, learning from your experiences of being online, and being able to recover from any difficulties or upsets.”
They have also put together a helpful framework to help parents and young people understand digital resilience:
Understand – an individual understands when they are at risk online and can make informed decisions about the digital space they are in.
Know – an individual knows what to do to seek help from a range of appropriate sources.
Recover – an individual can recover when things go wrong online by receiving the appropriate level of support to aid recovery.
Learn – an individual learns from their experiences and is able to adapt their future choices where possible.
Why is digital resilience important?
- Children spend huge amounts of time online. On average, 8–12 year olds in the US use just under 5 hours of entertainment screen time a day, whilst teens use just under an average of 7 and a half hours (Common Sense Media). And unlike many offline experiences which can be partly managed by creating physical distance, online experiences are hard to escape; they exist round the clock.
- More time online equals more exposure to more threats online. 1 in 4 internet users have experienced some kind of online harassment and 36% have experienced some kind of cyber bullying, whilst 87% of children have seen it happen online. Furthermore, rates of online harm grew steeply during the initial stages of the pandemic, as children spent more time online. As Lauren Seager-Smith FRSA, CEO at Kidscape says, “Online bullying is a growing issue for many children, and unlike on the playground, they can be exposed to it 24/7. It is important that parents take steps to learn how to support their children by building digital resilience from an early age”.
- What happens online is harder for adults to detect. Many negative internet experiences happen in private spaces, unobserved by friends or caring adults. It may be hard for a child to explain what they have experienced online; they are left to process it alone. The experience online can be even worse than the experience at the school gates.
- Kids with digital resilience understand, recover and learn from negative online experiences faster. They are also less likely to make the same mistakes and less likely to have mental health issues over the long term.
How to help your child develop digital resilience
1. Teach boundaries from a young age.
At a young age, your child is most likely to be consuming the content you choose for them, or playing age-appropriate games. As they get older, their exposure to social networks, unchecked content and wider communities will likely increase. They will contribute more as creators and communicators in the digital ecosystem. It is at this stage, when they are more widely exposed to uncensored services and content, that your child is most in need of digital resilience. But developing the tools for resilience can begin well before they need them. When your child first starts to enjoy some screen time, boundary setting is important to regulate the time spent online. This teaches them that the user is in control of their own usage, and that there is a world beyond the screen.
2. Equip children with the knowledge to make informed choices.
As your child gets older, they may start to move from simple games and children’s videos, to more complex games, apps, messaging platforms and content. It is important that as they do, they develop an understanding of topics such as:
- Understanding and controlling privacy settings.
- Understanding messaging circles, and the difference between friends and strangers online.
- Their role as a digital citizen – that what they do online could exist as a digital footprint forever, and that digital resilience is just as much about their own behaviour as managing the behaviour of others.
- Continuing to understand boundaries, and how to build an on and offline balance.
3. Build a habit of consistent communication in your home.
If you start a habit in your home of discussing online activity openly from an early age, it will be easier to encourage these conversations when they become more complex later on. Help your children to recognize that they can come to you (as the parent) without judgement if they need help or support. And keep it light – encourage your children to give themselves a break. They can’t be perfect all the time, mistakes may happen, and that is OK.
4. Encourage and support your teenager’s independence. By the time your child is a teenager, you may be allowing them more unrestricted access to the wider internet. By this stage, they are finding their identity and learning how to independently navigate the world. They may be struggling with challenges such as body image, sexual identity and relationships. Social media in particular can be a challenge for some young people at this age.
Nurturing self-awareness in your child is particularly important, encouraging them to recognise if something is promoting negative feelings and to stop engaging if this is the case. Encourage them to discuss any issues they are facing and, if required, to seek support either from you, a friend, or a trusted resource.
5. Use a parental control tool as your child grows.
Children develop their social and emotional skills at different rates, which is why age-appropriate guidelines for apps may have their limits. As an engaged parent, you are in a good position to understand your child’s emotional and social development. By using a parental control tool like Qustodio, you can curate their online experience to allow your child access to the internet at a level which is proportionate to their level of digital resilience.
While your child is building their digital resilience, you can block inappropriate sites or apps, set time-limits, or manage safe searches to help keep your kids safe. As they become more emotionally mature and able to identify safe or unsafe spaces for themselves, then it may be appropriate to release some of the restrictions, allowing them to experience more of the internet as they grow. In doing this, you can find a healthy balance between independence and security, in an era when having the skills to positively navigate the online environment is critical.