Since the emergence of COVID-19 we have all experienced a dramatic shift in the way we use online platforms. We now rely much more on technology for our work, learning, social connections and everyday activities. As a result, children and young people are now more immersed in the online world than ever before.
The internet has been a vital source of connection and support for many young people during 2020. It has allowed them to stay connected to their social networks and continue their learning, during a period when they were isolated and at increased risk of mental health issues. And as we approach the school holidays, many students will use social media and online games to stay connected with their peers.
One of the major challenges teachers and parents face when it comes to cyber safety is how to protect their students and children from online harms when they are not being directly supervised. The answer is cyber safety education. We must empower young people with the skills and confidence to be responsible, respectful and resilient digital citizens, who can make positive decisions and seek help if something goes wrong.
A key component of online safety education is resilience. Below are five tips to help students cope well and bounce back in response to online challenges.
1. Be proactive about privacy
It is always better to take active steps to avoid online harms, rather than simply reacting to issues when they arise. Students can manage their online privacy by regularly checking the privacy settings on all their accounts, especially after updating their apps and devices. They can keep their accounts safe by using strong, secure passwords, changing passwords regularly and not sharing passwords with others. Students should also check that sites are safe and secure before sharing personal details or making payments, and investigate social media profiles before accepting follow or friend requests. They can stay alert to scams and learn how to avoid them with resources such as Scamwatch.
Encourage students to manage their digital reputation and take control of their online identity by making conscious, informed decisions about what they share. Help them learn about the features and potential risks of the platforms they use, including who can access their data and personal details, and how to report inappropriate or harmful content. The eSafety Commissioner’s eSafety Guide is a great resource to help students, teachers and parents stay informed about the platforms they are using.
2. Build in a pause
Online interactions can bring up a lot of strong emotions for young people and they may be more vulnerable to impulsive behaviour. They need skills to help them regulate their emotions and make positive, safe decisions. When they notice a strong feeling arising online, they might stop and take some slow, deep breaths. They could log out of their account, close their device, stand up and have a stretch. They could have a drink of water, go to another room, take a walk outside or have a shower. They could go and talk to a parent, friend or family member. Whatever they need to do to calm their emotional brain and engage their rational, thinking brain.
3. Get some perspective
We can become so immersed in the online world that we lose sight of the bigger picture. While online interactions are an important part of many students’ lives, it is helpful for them to remember that these interactions are not everything.
Students can build resilience by learning how to take a step back and get some perspective. They could spend time in nature or do something active that helps them connect with their bodies. They could look up at the sky, hang out with friends face-to-face or do something they love, like drawing, listening to music or reading. They could take a moment to remember their values and what matters most to them – their interests, passions, hobbies and relationships. This might help them to see their online experiences as just one part of a rich and meaningful life.
4. Seek out positive connections
Encourage students to find online communities that are safe, helpful and good for their mental health. This might involve unfollowing accounts or leaving online communities that are negative or toxic, and spending more time interacting with people who make them feel comfortable, safe and supported. For many students, especially younger students, this might mean only interacting with people online that they know and trust in real life. Organisations like headspace and ReachOut.com host moderated online communities for adolescents and young people, so they can connect and share their experiences in a safe environment.
5. Ask for help
Encourage students to access support from trusted adults if they have a negative experience or make a mistake online. Ensure they understand the procedures for reporting cyber bullying and online abuse at their school, and that they know the names of people who can provide ongoing support such as wellbeing staff and school counsellors. Students should also be familiar with external sources of support, such as Kids Helpline, headspace and the eSafety Commissioner, and understand that help and support is always available, not matter what has happened.
Theatre in education helps students develop online resilience
Brainstorm Productions is an Australian educational theatre company, offering a range of cyber safety school programs to help students build resilience online. Our theatre productions for schools are a great way to support social and emotional learning (SEL) and student wellbeing. The performances provide practical skills for regulating emotions, building positive online connections, considering the benefits and risks of online interactions, and seeking help in response to negative online experiences. They also demonstrate a range of strategies for managing online privacy, security and digital reputation.
Brainstorm Productions is endorsed by the eSafety Commissioner as a Trusted eSafety Provider. The Trusted eSafety Provider Program helps schools select high quality online safety programs that are based on current knowledge and research, and take a resilience- and strengths-based approach to online safety education. Our resilience programs for primary school and high school students are also supported by curriculum-aligned classroom resources, developed by teachers and a clinical psychologist. The programs provide teachers with a range of engaging digital citizenship resources and cyber safety activities for students. You can learn more about building resilience through cyber safety education with our Cyber Safety Guide for Schools.
Teachers, parents and students can also learn about online safety and resilience via the eSafety Commissioner’s website.