Digital resilience - a parent's guide

7th September 2017

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Parent Info’s partner organisation, Parent Zone, began the conversation about the importance of promoting digital resilience in children and young people with its 2014 report with the Oxford Internet Institute, A Shared Responsibility(link is external).

Now, Parent Zone and CEOP are hosting a conference in London in October to support families and those working with them to help build digital resilience in young people.

But what exactly is digital resilience? And what can we do as parents to help our children develop it?


What’s so important about digital resilience?

At Parent Zone, we’re often asked what we mean by ‘digital resilience’ and whether it’s different to offline resilience. The answer is that it’s similar to resilience in any other context, with some crucial differences.

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.

Children who are digitally resilient will be equipped to handle the challenges of the modern, digital world.

 You need to be able to explore life online

Digital resilience grows through online use and learned experience and can’t be developed through the avoidance of the digital world. In other words, you don’t help your children to become digitally resilient by keeping them away from the internet.

It’s many parent’s instinct to use as many tools and filters as they can to ‘protect’ their child from nasty things they may find on the internet. This may be useful for very young children, and tools are important for all internet users – we’d all do well to check our privacy settings more often – but when it comes to raising digitally resilient children, it is vital that parents ensure they are allowed to explore the online world.

The reality is, if you attempt to make parental controls your first line of defense, your child will do what children are programmed to do – they’ll attempt to find a way around them and could end up in much less safe parts of the net, such as the murkier parts of the dark web. More importantly, you won’t be helping them to develop digital resilience.

Supportive parents are key

Research conducted by Parent Zone with the Oxford Internet Institute[1] found that children who were given freedom to use the internet on their own, backed up by supportive parenting, were less likely to come to harm online and more likely to enjoy constructive online experiences – like learning a new skill – than those whose internet use was strictly filtered and monitored.


6 ways to promote digital resilience at home

Employ the same parenting skills you use offline to keep them safe, such as negotiating boundaries, talking about the difficult subjects we’d all rather avoid, helping your child to recognise what’s good and bad behaviour.

  1. Set fair and consistent rules in relation to your child’s internet use at home. As they get older, try to agree the rules with them so that they have some control over their digital world.
  2. Teach your child to think critically about what they read, see or hear online. For young children, that might mean encouraging them to ask ‘what would Mum or Dad say about that?’ As they get older they need to be able to assess for themselves whether they are in a risky online place and whether the information they are receiving is reliable and helpful to them.  (The Parent Zone Digital Parenting course(link is external) explains in full why some online spaces are riskier than others.)
  3. It’s much harder for people to empathise with each other when their communications are digital. It’s why trolls find it so easy to post horrible messages. Helping your child to understand that and to pause and think about the impact of things that are posted online, will help them cope with some of the difficult behaviour they will come across and avoid getting caught up in it.
  4. Maintain a positive outlook on your child’s use of the internet.
    Whatever you think to the stuff they watch or the hours they spend on or the PS4, if you constantly criticise the apps and games they love, they’re not going to want to talk to you about their online life.
  5. Children who can recover from an online mistake can learn and avoid making the same mistake again. You can help by making it easy for them to talk to you about their mishaps (that means trying to keep calm even if you’re at your wits’ end!), making sure they know where to go for help if they need it, and recognising if they’re not recovering well so you can step in and get help for them.
  6. Allow your child to explore and take charge of their online life.
    Having some control over any given situation is an important part of resilience – and it’s a really important part of digital resilience. It’s essential in helping them understand and develop their own sense of what’s right and wrong online.

Digital resilience is not fixed. It’s not a single ability or a set of lessons that can be learnt. It is something that every child can have and parents can do more than anyone else to foster it. Set clear boundaries for their life online and then step away, letting them explore the online world safe in the knowledge that you will be there to help if anything goes wrong.


Further reading

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

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

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


Please note, the advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and is not necessarily the view of either Parent Zone or CEOP.


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