Digital resilience is the ability to bounce back from challenges in an online world. Resilience is a skill that builds each time you learn how to deal with, adapt to, and overcome challenges, no matter where they happen. Like learning to ride a bike, every event that lets you overcome an obstacle and maybe get a few skinned knees but still be OK is evidence of your strengths and skills and builds the self-confidence that fuels resilience.
The digital world is full of benefits and challenges. Resiliency is an asset that draws on your emotional capacity to stay positive and forward-looking. The psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has devoted her career to showing how positive emotions provide the fuel for resilience. Assets are the cognitive and emotional characteristics and skills developed from experience that help protect a child facing high-risk situations.
Digital resilience is the confidence that you can cope with things that may go wrong online.
Digital resilience has three parts: 1) the self-confidence gained from experience; 2) the knowledge about how to judge events and recognize risks, and; 3) the practical and emotional skills that enable coping and self-regulation. Every opportunity to practice skills and learn strategies adds to a child’s resiliency “toolbox,” making them more confident and more capable of handling future problems.
In developing resilience programs for children and adults, psychologists now realize that promoting healthy development and competence is more important than preventing problems because building strengths is not risk-dependent.
Parents can play a big role in helping children build the strengths they need for digital resilience by doing the following:
Start by building an open and trusting relationship with kids—research shows that consistent and unconditional love and support are the most important factors in building resiliency.
Make sure your children develop a basic knowledge of media literacy and digital skills—whether this is at school or at home.
Allow children to engage with appropriate online opportunities and challenges. As scary as the digital world is for parents, avoidance and restriction not only deny kids opportunities to practice with healthy, age-appropriate boundaries and oversight, it increases the chances that kids will go online without supervision and not be prepared when they run into trouble.
Resist the urge to fix things yourself when kids run into trouble. Online problems are really no different than offline ones. Bullying exists on and offline. Social conflicts include serious issues like cyberbullying and social issues that can be small squabbles (like losing an in-game item or getting cheated in a trade) or large ones (being rejected by friends).
For the social issues, listen non-judgmentally, and help the child express their emotions and brainstorm solutions. This builds their set of coping strategies. The focus on social connections grows steadily from tweens to teens and young adults. The more kids can practice solutions to relational problems as tweens, the easier their teenage years will be.
For serious problems, like bullies or predators, teach kids how to recognize the signs of trouble and what to do, like get a responsible adult, block, don’t respond. Not only will they have a greater sense of control, but they also know they don’t have to solve bad circumstances themselves without love and support.
Don’t underestimate the importance of parents’ and caregivers’ behavior on kids’ digital resilience. We all learn through observation. Make sure you are modeling healthy digital behaviors and good coping skills in the face of adversity.
Pay attention to the messages you send about technology use. One of the problems in building digital resilience is the messages parents unintentionally send to kids. If you worry constantly and fear that every online encounter might be dangerous, you are sending three messages: 1) the world is scary, making the child more anxious and fearful; 2) you don’t think the child can cope, and; 3) the child is better off keeping their digital problems a secret that seeking help from you because you’ll be mad at them (victim blaming) or take away their devices.
Recognize the many learning opportunities in entertainment media that are not just fun but provide good examples of resilience and provide non-confrontational conversational entry points. Movies are an effective and practical way to introduce and demonstrate resilience and inspire children of all ages to overcome their own challenges in creative ways. Finding Forrester, Moana, Zootopia, Soul Surfer, Brave, and Penguin Bloom are among the many examples of resilience in movies.
Age-appropriate interactive social technologies, like games, can provide a chance to practice social skills like collaboration, empathy, and self-regulation—all strengths that contribute to resilience. Minecraft, for example, provides limitless opportunities to collect resources and build anything you can imagine and collaborate and share with others. Games can provide a way for kids to build confidence, and, as you may have noticed, kids demonstrate a lot of resilience and persistence when trying to level up in video games. There are also several apps that can help kids and adults build resilience by practicing skills such as mindfulness, cognitive reappraisal, and empathy, such as MindShift and Headspace.
Digital resilience is a life skill. It is not one you build by staying in your comfort zone. Helping your kids build digital resilience doesn’t just protect them. It expands their opportunities by giving them internal strength and judgment. There is no greater protection in the age of Instagram or whatever comes next.
Join us for our upcoming Cyberwise Chat:
Building a Resilient Kid: What Parents Need to Know Thurs., 9/15, Noon PST
Author: Dr. Pamela Rutledge is the Director of the Media Psychology Research Center and is the co-panelist of monthly Cyberwise Chats on a variety of tech topics.