You are here

Why we need to focus on resilience when dealing with risk-taking behaviours

Ralph Jordinson, co-chair of the Digital Resilience Networking Group (DRNG) and Risk and Resilience coordinator for the Vulnerable, Exploited, Missing and Trafficked (VEMT) practitioners group in Middlesbrough spoke at the Digital Families 2019 conference.

In his pre-conference blog, he explains how an emphasis on resilience is helping young people in the region stay safer online.

I’ve seen the many advantages that technology brings to my own daughter - educationally, creatively, and socially. Unfortunately, at work, I also see the grim side of technology: the ways in which it exposes young people to exploitation. I’ve witnessed more and more referrals to VEMT in which technology has played a part in children being exploited.

It is imperative that all young people, and especially those who are vulnerable, are equipped to recognise when they have been exposed to risk, to know when something is wrong, and to be aware of where and how they can immediately seek help. 

"A crisis shouldn’t be the first time young people are looking around for how and where to report something."

All children and young people need to be informed that they may face risks. Inevitably, some young people will push boundaries in spite of advice from their parents, teachers or social workers.  

They need to be reassured that parents are not going to start banning or confiscating devices because they have made one error of judgement. They need to be clear that there are places to report someone or something, and that the adults who are concerned about them will help them to do that.

"Resilience can help young people maintain some balance in their lives during difficult or traumatic episodes"

I believe resilience approaches are vital for all risk-taking behaviours, but especially digital ones. They enable young people to thrive, and to develop ways of protecting themselves against negative experiences, even when these are overwhelming. If they can develop resilience, it will protect them from some longer-term mental health difficulties and behavioural issues.

Our ambition

A little over two years ago, a Middlesbrough Executive set about achieving a goal similar to the government’s - to aspire to be one of the safest places for a child to grow up online. Influenced by the UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS) Sexting in schools and colleges guidance, and the Children’s Commissioner for England’s ‘Growing up digital’ report, some fantastic developments and targets have emerged, which are now being rolled out in our sub-region. 

We have recently been exploring how we might utilise the new UK Council for Internet Safety Digital* Resilience Framework to achieve our ambition.

"The Digital Resilience Framework has heavily influenced our approach to all risk-taking behaviour in Middlesbrough"

We have completely changed our approach, even down to changing the name of our unit from the Risk Reduction Team to the Risk and Resilience Team, and we now adopt a similar resilience framework for all risk interventions, not just for those that are digital. 

We want agencies not only to be aware of the risks to young people, but also of how they will equip them to learn, adapt and recover when something goes wrong. The message of Understand, Know, Learn and Adapt, and Recover should be fundamental in all risk- reduction approaches.

"We need new approaches to resilience that don’t alarm children with scare-stories. We need to help them understand that technology is a fantastic tool"

The unit coordinates a multi-agency response to online risk-taking behaviours across the town - a big remit, which involves talking about relationships and sex education; harmful behaviours; county lines; sexual exploitation; and everything in between - that in-between part often being digital safeguarding.

I often refer to the Green Cross Code analogy when training parents and professionals: it’s simple and easy to remember, and it stresses the ways in which we can teach children to be resilient. Children need to learn how to cross the road safely -  we don’t ban road-crossing because of the risk that a child could be knocked over - Instead, we teach children to be effective, safe and sensible road-crossers. The same approach needs to be adopted for risk-taking behaviours. 

We must go beyond saying “be careful and don’t post personal information” or “don’t chat to strangers online” or worse, using deterrent messages such as “something bad will happen to you if you do this”. Instead, we need new approaches that help children understand that technology is a fantastic tool and that they are capable of taking responsibility, that they are the experts, and that they can do as much to take care of their online wellbeing as their teachers, parents and the government.