Young Canadians in a Wireless World, Phase IV: Talking to Youth and Parents about Online Resiliency

OverviewTalking to Youth and Parents about Online Resiliency

MediaSmarts conducted focus groups with youth ages 11 to 17 and their parents to better understand what is working for young people online and what needs to be changed or improved so that young people get the most out of their online experiences and their interactions with digital technology – both at home and in the classroom.

Through these conversations we discovered that youth are deeply aware of the pitfalls and benefits of digital technology. While personal tech devices and the internet help young people connect with friends and do their schoolwork, they also encounter various external factors (such as surveillance and control) that interfere with efforts to be more creative and engaged in the online world. This research calls attention to how we might help youth across Canada be more resilient online – with more balance, trust, and support – and forms the foundation for Phase IV of our Young Canadians in a Wireless World survey to take place in 2021.

Read the full report here.

What is resiliency?

This report focuses on resiliency: the ability for an individual to respond to, or recover from, changing and sometimes stressful environments or circumstances.

In the online context, resiliency is most often expressed as the need for a young person to effectively self-regulate their use of digital technology and online media so they can better respond to potentially harmful or inappropriate content or experiences.

While resilience is often understood as an individual trait, in this report we draw attention to a more communal or collective form of resilience that shows how groups of people – youth, parents and teachers – can work together to respond to the ever-changing, and sometimes stressful, online and digital environment.

 Key takeaways:

  • Youth use social media to connect with peers and get involved in popular culture, but they fear becoming ‘addicted’ to their devices and actually prefer face-to-face interactions.
    • “I know a lot of people get addicted to like almost everything, so like I don’t want to become one of those people who, I guess, gets addicted to their phone and don’t want to do anything else” (Keeshia, 14)
  • There is a vast amount of information at their fingertips, but the amount of inaccurate content online makes it difficult for youth to use technology to learn.
    • For instance, William’s daughter had also told her father that there was a waterfall in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  It was only when he had her take him to the website making the claim, and helped her debunk it, that she realized the information was actually false: “So she thought about it and then realized that what she was watching was just a bunch of crazy stuff. But she kind of believed it in, in watching it” (William, father).
  • Schools provide opportunities to use tech to advance learning, which youth enjoy and appreciate, but sometimes require that students use a device when they would have preferred to use pen and paper.  
    • “I really felt like writing… and it’s probably more educational than staying online and staring at a screen” (Miranda, 11)
    • “because sometimes when I’m at night it kind of like hurts my eyes because it’s dark out and everything and I’ve been starring at it for a long time [so] I’d rather do it on paper.” (Aalim, 12)
  • Surveillance in the classroom erodes the trust youth have in the adults who are there to help them learn, and the “creepiness” factor of surveillance was mentioned often.
    • “Yeah, it’s kind of weird to like creep on kids” (Hayden, 11)
  • Filters, blockers and monitoring software help show the line between appropriate and inappropriate online behaviour, but youth are able to get around those types of controls when they want to.
    • “It’s kind of like a respect thing. Like, you know you just sort of like you dress like nice[r] at school than you would … like at home. Like, if you want to look at sketchy sites, you should probably do them at home rather than school” (Megan, 16)
  • Although youth understand their parents’ fears about the online world, the controls they are placed under make it difficult to use technology for creative self-expression or community engagement. 
    • “everything nowadays, every electronic camera—It always has someone behind it listening and recording and gathering everything that’s happening” (Sachi, 15)
    • “I don’t write very personal things online… because I know that a lot of people could see it.”  (Miranda, 11)
  • Controls also take away from a sense of trust between young people and adults, making it less likely for youth to make mistakes and learn from them (and for youth to turn to adults when they encounter problems).
    • “It’s like, I’m your kid. You should have a little bit of faith in me… Trust” (Tejal, 16).

What’s next?

“Adults have a lot of stereotypes against kids” (Xander, 12)

… a lot of these apps were marketed to us, so I think it would be only fair if we get to have a say in like how they’re made (Amrita, 15)

This qualitative research report highlighted some of the gaps that exist between youth and adults when it comes to digital technology, but it also reaffirmed that we should continue talking to young people who are uniquely positioned to let adults know what the online world looks like and how we can help them make the most of it.

Phase IV of Young Canadians in a Wireless World will continue to explore and expand upon these findings and focus on the following:

  • Digital literacy supports for parents and educators
  • Use of technology in the classroom
  • Public education and transparency initiatives around privacy, consent, and data collection and use
  • Opportunities for young people across Canada to share their experiences with technology and platform developers
  • Development of youth-friendly/only spaces in the online world
  • Research into young people’s online experiences so that we can deepen our understanding of their perspectives which are often missing from research (and policies) on digital devices and technology

Overall, these conversations with parents and youth demonstrate that resiliency is still an important part of the digital literacy puzzle, but to meet our joint responsibility for digital well-being we need to foster a more collective form of resiliency grounded in trust, information, and youth empowerment.