Digital Resilience in Children and Young People

Digital Resilience in Children and Young People

01 Mar 2022

This informal CPD article on Digital Resilience in Children and Young People was provided by Louisa Street at Headstart Kernow, a community organisation building resilience and mental wellbeing for children and young people.

As the Government works towards ratifying the Online Safety Bill, there is increasing concern amongst professionals about what young people do online and how we can keep them safe. Many politicians refer to the internet as the wild west, with a vow to end this era of unregulated content. But is it actually going to keep young people safer online?

One of my favourite quotes about digital resilience comes from the UK Council for Internet Safety who describe digital resilience as a ‘dynamic personality asset’ that can only be gained by engaging with the online world, not by avoiding it.

But how do we do that? How do we help build this resilient personality asset in children and young people and what does resilience actually look like in practice?

How to build a resilient personality in children

Well, firstly it might be useful to consider what we are currently doing that doesn’t build resilience. Telling children and young people about the various types of trouble they’ll get in if they’re found doing something they shouldn’t be doing online, unsurprisingly doesn’t build resilience. What it does instead is teaches young people that if something bad happens they should keep it secret - as one young person at a recent focus group said ‘it’s like if you break something, even if it was an accident, you’re not going to tell anyone because you’ll just get told off’.

What I have increasingly noticed in my work with young people, is that they would rather be repeatedly exposed to things which upset them, than tell someone and end up having their internet access revoked. That could be seeing racist or homophobic language, self-harm content, inappropriately placed pornographic content (such as on Instagram or TikTok) or animal abuse imagery.

On the surface, this might suggest that the Online Safety Bill is in fact the way forward, if we can remove this content from platforms that young people use, then we can keep them safe. But aside from the fact that it will likely be impossible for platforms to remove this content, this also doesn’t build young people’s resilience.

So, what can we do?

Well, firstly we should teach young people about how to curate their feed on social media. Interacting with content makes it more likely you will see similar content in the future. So, if a young person is seeing a lot of self-harm content, we can help them to see less by showing them how to report it, how to flag it as something they don’t want to see, and helping them to like and follow other content in order to teach the platform’s algorithm what they do want to see.

We need to consider that young people may not be accessing this content deliberately, and they may already have strategies in place to deal with seeing content they don’t like. Shutting off their access to it in order to ‘protect’ them, might work in the short term, but in the longer term only teaches them that telling someone leads to punishment (whether that was our intention or not).

If we can change our way of talking to children and young people, to be more proactive and less prohibitive, we might start to teach them that they can ask for help if they see upsetting content, and that help will be focused on supporting them to enjoy the time they spend online, not preventing them from going online.

This is only one step towards building their resilience, but it is an important one. We want children and young people to come to us if they see something upsetting, we don’t want them to feel that their only options are to keep quiet about it or get in trouble for it. Creating an environment where young people can share their concerns about upsetting content, means they will be more likely to come to us if they experience other problems online.

We hope this article was helpful. For more information from Headstart Kernow, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.

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