Internet security for kids: less parental control, more communication
Internet security for kids tends to mean parental control over websites. A new study says that parental control and restricting access aren't constructive. Kids needn't be sheltered, but allowed to explore with parental support and communication.
As a society, we’ve been talking about youth online risk for years, but we’ve only just begun to talk about young people’s resilience, which is what helps them keep risk from turning into harm. It’s important to know, as the authors of an important new report note, that resilience – the ability to deal with negative experiences without being upset by them – doesn’t come from avoiding risk, online or offline.Skip to next paragraph
Anne Collier is editor of NetFamilyNews.org and co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a Web-based interactive forum and information site for teens, parents, educators, and everybody interested in the impact of the social Web on youth and vice versa. She lives in Northern California and has two sons.
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“Risk and resilience go hand in hand, as resilience can only develop through exposure to risks or stressful events. Consequently, as children learn how to adequately cope with (online) adversities, they develop (online) resilience,” write Leen d’Haenens, Sofie Vandoninck and Verónica Donoso of EU Kids Online in the UK.
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Here are some things parents and educators need to know about resilience:
- What it enables: “Resilient children are able to tackle adverse situations in a problem-focused way, and to transfer negative emotions into positive (or neutral) feelings,” the authors write.
- Gender differences: Boys were less resilient at a younger age, girls were less resilient as teenagers.
- Online and offline inseparable: “Children with more psychological problems suffer more from online as well as offline risks” (resonant with findings of a just-released study in the US, published in the journal Pediatrics, about maltreatment's amplifying effect on a child's online vulnerability).
- Most popular coping strategy (but resilient kids usually use more than one): “Talking to somebody is the most popular employed strategy, regardless of the type of risk, especially among girls and younger children who tend to employ this communicative strategy more often.” The authors recommend encouraging “open communication, both at home and at school.”
- Other education needed: Teach children effective coping strategies, including blocking and abuse-reporting tools, but especially social-emotional literacy (I added the latter, based on other research and the authors’ advice that “special attention to children with low self-efficacy and psychological difficulties … is crucial.”
- It’s not either/or, but a spectrum: “Being resilient is not a simple ‘yes or no’ question, and … would rather be understood as a continuum from very low to very high resilience.” Over all, “girls, younger children, children with more psychological problems, those receiving more support from their friends, children whose parents mediated their internet use and children whose parents were low internet users were less resilient.”
- Parents’ own tech use a significant factor: Promoting Net use by parents “is crucial, as parents who are frequent internet users themselves feel more confident with the medium, and also feel more confident in guiding their children … promoting a positive attitude toward online safety and proactive coping strategies.”
- Mediation better than restriction: In terms of parenting style, the authors write that “monitoring or mediating approaches seem to be more beneficial for children’s online resilience than restrictive ones.” They add that more research is needed for different types of risks and on social practices of young people.
- Taking away the Net doesn’t help: It’s related to a passive or fatalistic approach that doesn’t build self-confidence or -efficacy online, the researchers found. “Going offline was related to missing out on online opportunities, and the problem could easily re-occur because the cause had not been tackled.”
- Educators key too: Teachers are needed to “stimulate their pupils to resort to proactive problem-solving strategies,” so “sufficient digital skills among the teachers themselves are therefore essential.”