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‘We need to address recovery as a matter of urgency’

Parent Zone's CEO and founder Vicki Shotbolt calls for much more focus on recovery when it comes to helping young people flourish online.  

My son has just had a very bad haircut. I feel comfortable sharing that because a) he agrees and b) we both blame his father for choosing a terrible hair salon. Fortunately, his hair will grow back in a few weeks and he is completely chilled about his current look.

By contrast, a similar misfortune happened to me when I was 11. I was about to start secondary school and my mother decided that short hair would be more practical. I blame that haircut – and obviously my mother – for six years of misery at secondary school when, in fact, what I should probably look to is my diminished reserves of resilience during those difficult teenage years. The hair was just the peg I found to hang my unhappiness on.

Identifying the things that might diminish a person’s resilience is not always easy. The ebb and flow of resilience is not always easy to track and even less easy to anticipate. And it’s particularly tricky in a digital world. 

‘Our task is to nurture resilience by fostering a child's knowledge, attitudes and personal assets’

In Parent Zone’s ‘Perfect Generation’ report, we found that 28% of young people thought the internet could be bad for their mental health. The vast majority, however, felt that it was a place that made them feel happy or relaxed. The reality of life online for most young people is that, at some point, they will come across content, or experience behaviour, that is upsetting. That is one of the reasons we focus on digital resilience

It’s clearly vital that we do all we can to prevent harm, but we want to go much further than that. We want young people to be able to flourish, so ours – and every parent’s – task is to nurture resilience by fostering the knowledge, attitudes and personal assets that a child can draw on when things are difficult. Delivering that in practice is complex. It involves warm and supportive parenting, having safe places to explore online, taking risks, and testing boundaries. Crucially, it also means being able to recover when things go wrong.

This final, vital element of any digital resilience-based internet citizenship programme is the one that is routinely overlooked. This is bizarre when you think how difficult it is to recover from things going wrong online because of the dreaded amplification effect and the truth of that familiar ‘what goes online stays online’ fact. 

A recovery wishlist

For Safer Internet Day 2018, we are focusing on recovery. But what can be done to help young people recover when things go wrong online so that they can regain their resilience and continue to flourish? Here is our wishlist: 

 ·         Let’s recognise recovery as being as important as prevention and invest as much effort as we do trying to stop young people making mistakes in the first place. Recovery – and learning from the experience – is more likely to help them avoid the problem next time.

·         Let’s help services recognise the opportunities they have to play a role in recovery. Acknowledging and using reports to assist recovery, with appropriate signposting to services and information, would be a simple but powerful way to help children deal with some of the difficult things they see and experience online.

·         Let’s invest in the specialist services young people need when they have experienced more serious problems and let’s make sure families can access them quickly and easily when they need them.

·         Let’s start to provide parents with support to help them when their child needs to recover from digital mishaps, and worse. Parents are naturally swift to reach for restrictive measures or remove digital access. Alternative, positive approaches need to be explained, so parents have better alternatives to achieve the outcome they are hoping for.

·         Let’s assist parents in dealing with practical online problems that young people face, such as removing fake accounts and reporting problematic images to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). It is completely wrong that a child has to approach a charity and share their story with further agencies in order to get an image dealt with by the IWF.   

The importance of turning points

Michael Rutter, the researcher every resilience geek has on their reading list, talks about the importance of recognising ‘turning points’: moments when a person’s resilience could be enhanced or, conversely, damaged. Seeing young people’s online mistakes, difficulties and disasters as potential turning points allows us to reframe our responses and intervene in a way that helps children recover and re-engage with technology in a positive way.

We need to address recovery as a matter of urgency. Or, at least, quicker than it takes for a bad haircut to grow out…

Find out more here in Parent Zone's recovery hub.