In the broadest possible terms, resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ from an upsetting or stressful situation. Historically, people have had a tendency to view resilience as a trait which children innately possess, because so many aspects of growing up entail ‘giving things a go’ and learning through the process of trial and error.
While young people do have a high threshold for adapting (in part because everything in the world is new to them) they aren’t necessarily capable of effectively managing conflict or understanding that things can (and often do) improve with time. This can hamper their ability to cope when issues arise in their offline or online lives.
Establishing resilience is an important skill which will have positive, lifelong impacts. While supporting children with the development of resilience in real world environments is something parents have been doing for generations, digital resilience has only recently become a necessary parental consideration.
Helpful Tips For Teaching Your Child About Digital Resilience
1. Prepare Them For The Possibility Of An Unpleasant Online Experience
We’ve all heard the saying ‘sometimes the best defense is a good offense’, and in the context of the Internet this is often true. Proactive risk management won’t completely eliminate the possibility of your child having an unpleasant experience online; it’s almost inevitable that your child will, at some point during their explorations of the online world, be confronted with something upsetting or inappropriate in nature. According to The Digital Life Skills Company, “it could be inappropriate content that slips through the filters, worrying or abusive contact, or just an upsetting comment from a ‘friend’.”
Prepare your child for the possibility of seeing an inappropriate pop-up, rude or mean comments on social media, or graphic and violent imagery. More importantly, teach them what to do if this does happen; it could be as simple as telling them to minimise the window and come and find you, or reporting the abuse to the relevant website. Being prepared for an unpleasant online experience will help your child to feel empowered to deal with it, which will ultimately add to their digital resilience.
A 2016 report conducted by YoungMinds & Ecorys finds that “children and young people’s resilience is strongly implicated in how online risks are experienced, and their ability to cope when problems arise”.
2. Help Them To Consider The Potential Outcomes Of A Decision
The Internet makes it easy for young people to act on whims, but unfortunately the impact of those impulses can be lasting. Talk to your child about the fact that it’s hard for anything to ever truly be deleted from the Internet. You should also discuss the implications of sharing things on social media – perhaps by demonstrating how easy it is to take a screenshot of something and share it with other people.
3. Encourage Critical Thinking And Empathy
When asked about their online lives, young people often cite the pressure to always be available as a source of stress. According to international expert, Devorah Heitner, young people experience anger over the pressure to have to reply to their friends immediately – yet, interestingly, they also admit to feeling anxious when their friends do not reply to them immediately. This is where critical thinking and empathy can be useful, as it enables children to perceive their friends’ non-responsiveness as an indicator that they’re simply busy doing something (such as eating dinner or completing homework), rather than catastrophising it and assuming their friends are mad at them and choosing to ignore them.
Both the challenges and the opportunities that come with the Internet are unprecedented. While the opportunities are endlessly hopeful and exciting, the risks – and the rapidity with which they emerge – can be overwhelming. Taking the time to support your child as they develop digital resilience will put them in good stead to overcome problems if, and when, they arise.
References & More Information On Digital Resilience
1. The Digital Life Skills Company, 2018. 5 simple strategies to build teens’ online resilience.
2. YoungMinds & Ecorys, 2016. Resilience for the digital world: Research into children and young people’s social and emotional wellbeing online.
3. Devorah Heitner, 2014. The challenges of raising a digital native.