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This article was contributed by Parent Zone

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Digital resilience: a parent’s guide

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We are more dependent on technology than we ever could have imagined a few years ago. For young people, this has opened up untold possibilities for learning, socialising and play. The whole world is – literally – at their fingertips. Mostly, that’s fantastic. But of course there are still risks online – and, technology being so fast-moving, it isn’t always possible to anticipate the hazards. Even if you could, it’s not clear that you’d want to shut down all the opportunities that exist online for the sake of a relatively small risk of being unsafe.

As with offline life, an important part of parenting is teaching your child how to stay safe – and how to be resilient.

What does digital resilience mean?

For young people, being digitally resilient means:

  • Understanding that there are some risks online, and that these come in different forms, from fake news to being tempted to behave in ways they might later regret.
  • When they encounter risks, or when something difficult or unpleasant happens, they know where to turn for help.
  • They can learn from their experiences.
  • They can recover.

Digital resilience grows through experience. It doesn’t come from avoiding the digital world. Tools and filters aren’t a bad start, particularly for very young children, and we’d all do well to check our privacy settings more often. But it’s vital that children are allowed to explore online. If you rely solely on parental controls, your child will do what children are programmed to do, and attempt to find a way around them.

Parent Zone’s research with the Oxford Internet Institute found that children who were more monitored and controlled were actually less safe online. Those who had the freedom to use the internet, backed by supportive parenting, were less likely to come to harm online and more likely to enjoy positive experiences such as learning a new skill.

Understand risks online

Talk to your child about what they like doing online.

How are they using the internet for learning? For socialising? For gaming and play?

  • What do they like?
  • What do they dislike about their online experiences?
  • Do they see any risks or threats?
  • How have those changed – did they change in lockdown, for instance?

It’s important to be open-ended in these conversations, rather than giving the impression you’re checking up on them. Be genuinely interested in their online lives – in why they like particular games, for example.

Know what to do to seek help

Make sure your child knows that if they come up against problems online, they won’t be blamed. They can come to you – and if they don’t want to speak to you, there are other adults they can talk to.

Reassure them that adults are on a learning curve with tech too. The important thing is to keep thinking about whether you want what’s happening to carry on and, if not, what you can change.

  • On social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, there are simple mechanisms for reporting. These links take you to the reporting pages – or you can search for ‘Report’ or go to their ‘Help’ sections.
  • True Vision is a police-funded site that provides information about hate crime. You can report all forms of hate crime, including online content, at www.report-it.org.uk. This includes racial, homophobic, religious or disability hate crime.
  • To report online material promoting terrorism or extremism go to https://www.gov.uk/report-terrorism
  • Content on mobile phones – unsuitable videos, still images or text – can be reported to the mobile operator. 
  • Any inappropriate contact from an adult can be reported to the National Crime Agency at NCA-CEOP 

Learn from experience

If something happens online, it’s important to acknowledge your child’s feelings about it. Stay calm, make sure they know where to go for help if they need it.

Recover

In the end, you need to be the same sort of parent online as offline: negotiating boundaries, talking about difficult subjects, helping your child to recognise good and bad behaviour.

  • The internet can no longer really be seen as separate from the rest of life. It isn’t the enemy. That doesn’t mean children have to be in front of screens the whole time. Be consistent about your rules (and include yourself!) and, as children get older, try to agree the rules with them so that they have some control.
  • Teach your child to think critically about what they read, see or hear online. 
  • It’s much harder for people to empathise with each other when their communications are digital. Helping your child to pause and think about the impact of things posted online will help them cope and avoid getting caught up.
  • Maintain a positive outlook. If you constantly criticise the apps and games they love, they’re not going to want to talk to you about their online life.
  • Having a feeling of control is important to digital resilience: help your child to feel that they have autonomy and, at the same time, that you’re always going to be there for them.

Digital resilience is (unfortunately!) not fixed. It’s not a set of lessons that can be learnt. The good news is that parents can help to foster it with clear boundaries and freedom to explore, letting your child know you’ll be there to help if anything goes wrong.

                                             

Further reading

A shared responsibility: building children’s online resilience (Parent Zone report 2014)

Ordinary magic for the digital age: understanding children's digital resilience (Parent Zone report 2017)

‘Fostering the digital resilience of young people isn’t just sensible, it is critical’

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.

Updated: ​June 2020

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