More support and resources for parents, educators and caring adults are needed so they can help youth meet the challenges of growing up in the digital age. For www.parenting.digital, Dr Kara Brisson Boivin discusses the latest results from the Young Canadians in a Wireless World (YCWW) study released by MediaSmarts, Canada’s centre for digital media literacy. Contrary to the stereotype that youth effortlessly acquire technical skills by virtue of ‘growing up with technology,’ young people in this national study believe the adults in their lives know more about technology than they do and they turn to these adults as trusted sources of information and support.
The Young Canadians in a Wireless World study shows that youth turn to caring adults in their lives to learn how to cope with the challenges they face online. This includes when dealing with online meanness and cruelty, harmful and discomforting content (e.g., racist and sexist content), sexting, excessive use and privacy risks. Fostering trust is critical to ensuring that youth have a wide network of caring adults they can turn to as they navigate their online experiences. The research also showed that technological controls and surveillance can be counter-productive to building trust when it comes to young people being online, whereas open communication, household rules and support increase trust and could reduce exposure to online harms.
- Young Canadians are informed and responsible digital citizens who navigate their safety, wellbeing and privacy online with the support of the adults in their lives.
- Youth expect more from platforms and technology companies to help them feel included, safe and informed online.
- Not surprisingly, screen time increased during the pandemic, but so did young people’s awareness of the time they are spending online and their desire to engage meaningfully with devices.
- Spying on kids without their knowledge online and limiting screen time through technological means is not effective in the long run. Open communication and having household rules around technology can help reduce exposure to online harms.
- Digital media literacy resources should highlight the importance of forms of support that build trust, allow for co-creation of rules and boundaries, and foster open and supportive communication between youth and the caring adults in their lives. Youth and parents/guardians should be supported with information on how to build trusting relationships and open communication.
- Experiences of online harms are complex and can include exposure to several different risks at the same. Actions taken by youth and their caregivers, including limiting screen time, do not eliminate exposure to online harm. Online platforms and technology companies have a responsibility to create safer and healthier online spaces for young people.
- We need to learn more about the experiences of young Canadians – especially gender-diverse youth, racialized youth, 2SLGBTQ+ youth, and youth with disabilities – to improve their sense of wellbeing, safety, and equitable inclusion in online communities.
While we know concerns have been increasing over youth and their online lives, MediaSmarts encourages parents and guardians to take the opportunity to start a conversation with young people in their lives about their technology use. Conversations about device use and online engagement ought to be regular, ongoing and balanced — to cultivate positive experiences while also preparing to manage harms and challenges as they arise. When families are in the car or on a walk together, parents or guardians can try picking one online activity or platform to ask the young person about. Ask them what they like about it or what benefits it brings to their life. Having an open dialogue can have a real impact and build trust.
At MediaSmarts, we also believe it is crucial to move beyond an individualized model of resilience, to pay attention to structural barriers to digital wellbeing, and to the importance of families, educators, and communities in young people’s lives. Collective online resilience refers to a young person’s ability to participate in safe and inclusive online communities, draw strength and support from the people around them, foster trust, and engage in meaningful dialogue.
Approaches towards fostering digital wellbeing among youth should recognize youth as experts on their own lives and active participants in online spaces, capable of generating solutions to the problems they encounter online alongside the caring adults in their lives. This collective and cooperative strategy to navigating life online must be grounded in trust, information, and empowerment so that young people have the skills and resources they need to be online as safe, responsible, and ethical digital citizens.
Young Canadians in a Wireless World is Canada’s longest-running and most comprehensive research study on young people’s attitudes, behaviours, and opinions regarding the internet, technology, and digital media. It has guided MediaSmarts’ efforts in digital media literacy since 2000 and is a touchstone for researchers and policymakers in Canada and abroad who work within and alongside the education sector.
The study has surveyed over 20,000 parents, teachers, and students since it began in 2000 (phase I). The most recent phase, Phase IV, began in 2019 with a series of focus groups to gather a ‘kid’s eye view’ of what is working for young people online and what needs to be changed or improved so they get the most out of their online experiences. Focus groups with parents and guardians rounded out the qualitative discussions which we used to inform the development of a quantitative survey that we administered in 2021 to over 1,000 students in grades four to eleven across Canada.
To date, we have released seven reports based on the survey data collected for Phase IV of YCWW:
- Life Online (November 2022)
- Encountering Harmful and Discomforting Content (December 2022)
- Online Privacy and Consent (January 2023)
- Online Meanness and Cruelty (February 2023)
- Sexting (March 2023)
- Digital Media Literacy (May 2023)
- Trends and Recommendations (June 2023)
First published at www.parenting.digital, this post represents the views of the authors and not the position of the Parenting for a Digital Future blog, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.
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Featured image: photo by MediaSmarts