Our risk mitigation approach and new research

child with tablet

In the past few months, several research papers were published that clearly verify the risk mitigation approach implemented in SAILS. They underline that the only way to learn sailing safe online is to actually do it, and the more children use digital tools and social media the more confident and resilient they become. It is also clear that while regular users know when and from whom to ask for help, the adults around them, especially teachers, are not always prepared for the job.

Probably the most important such paper is by Sonia Livingstone, one of the most vocal advocates of a balanced approach to digital practices and of ensuring all child rights, not only the right to protection, and her colleagues. It is a systemic evidence review that is aiming at making the link between young people’s well-being related to content or occurrences that are uncomfortable or bad, and their resilience and media literacy. The percentage of young people reporting that their well-being level is lowered due to such encounters is declining, and there seems to be a very strong link between their resilience to such event and well-being. However, you can only build resilience by actually having to cope with difficult situations and by increasing media literacy levels. Thus, it seems to be clear that given the right support by their family, friends and adults in their circle of trust, young people benefit from being exposed to risk and uncomfortable situations on the long run. The task we are trying to help parents and professional educators solve is to be able to offer the right support, to increase resilience in a complex way, and to support their media literacy.

Another research authored by Kathy Hirsch-Pasek and her colleagues highlights the importance of targeting parents as a main recipient group in SAILS. Their research was focusing on younger children, their digital practices (especially watching videos) and the role of parents discussing it with them on their other skills and competences. Their findings strongly underline again the importance of parental curiosity about children’s digital activities and the importance of discussions.

Research conducted by Ofcom in the UK show that most children under 13 are already registered on at least one social media platform. One-third of parents of children aged 5 to 7 said their child had a profile, which rose to 60% among children aged 8 to 11. There is no data directly from children, so the percentages are likely to be higher, especially for the 8 to 13 age group. This a reality we need to deal with, and it means that even the parents and teachers of younger children must have the right competences to guide children while allowing them to experiment.

Amy Orben and her colleagues have analysed the impact of social media use on life satisfaction, and have found that there is a major difference between boys and girls of different ages. High levels of social media use are accounted for lower life satisfaction for girls aged 11-13 and boys aged 14-15.

A recent publication by Lie Detectors, a Belgian journalism NGO finds a clear mismatch between the social media use of children and young people, and the adults close to them. This is an important finding highlighting that indirect tools are important in education for living in the digital age as the educator may live in a different digital reality from the digital reality of the learner – regardless of who is educating whom. This paper also highlights another element in our approach: that children are often more skilled than adults. The findings show that children are far more capable of identifying falsified pictures than adults.

The UNICEF Report The State of the World’s Children 2021 shows that by being online and active on social media regularly, children become more confident and subsequently feel much safer online. It is a reassuring finding that the overwhelming majority of children know how to seek support if something feels uncomfortable online. The percentage grows with the regularity of logging in. 74 % of first time users already know how to ask for help from family, other adults of friends. Occasional social media use increases this to 86%, while in the case of regular users 93% feel confident asking for help. However, a high percentage of children felt that school was not responsive to their online learning challenges at all.