Understanding your child’s digital world – August 2017

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This month’s blog is about a recent screening of a film called Resilience, and how we can integrate the themes raised in the film with our knowledge of a child’s digital world.

Resilience – The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope

Last month I was delighted to be involved with the first Sheffield Screening of the Resilience Film (alongside Cybertrauma specialist Cath Knibbs [1] and The Academy SPACE in Sheffield [2]). Resilience is a film documentary, made by KPJR films, which tells the story of the original ACE study research and the subsequent impact on health and social care in parts of America. The film was made to create awareness and promote knowledge in the general population and can be watched as part of an organised screening [3].

ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) are traumatic or stressful events in childhood such as abuse, neglect, domestic violence, parental mental illness and parental substance abuse. They have been consistently linked to poorer health outcomes in adults. The study not only showed that experience of ACEs is very common across the population in general, but that there is a positive correlation between a person’s ACE score and poorer health outcomes as an adult. In general, the research showed that an ACE score of 4 or more could mean that a person is three times more likely to be at risk of heart disease, lung disease and cancer [4].

According to scientific research, a high ACE score can be directly related to a child’s developing body and brain experiencing the fight/flight reaction on a regular basis.  This is different to experiencing sporadic periods of stress, for example coming face to face with a tiger!  It is only harmful and toxic when part of daily life as a child.  The study shifted the thinking about ACEs from a social issue to a lifetime health issue and it became a part of an educative programme to protect children and families through early identification and structuring of support services.

The original study was replicated in the UK; in Wales in 2015, with similar results and is worth a read [5].

So, where is the link to a child’s digital world?

The impact of a child’s digital world is one key factor that is missing from the studies. The original study in 1998 was conducted long before social media as we know it today existed, but equally stresses from online life did not feature in the Welsh study in 2015.

We know that children are now growing up online and social media makes up a large part of a young person’s world. We know that this creates new stresses and pressures on young people, as well as opportunities for abuse and grooming – both online and offline. We know that ‘keeping safe’ messages need to span an integrated online and offline world. New words have entered our vocabulary that didn’t exist when talking about abuse over a decade ago: cyberbullying, sexting, cyberstalking, impersonation online – as well as young people accessing content such as pro-harm sites and concerns with gaming content and addiction.

We can’t ignore the impact of a child’s online world when thinking about ACEs. For most young people, their online lives are positive and integrated: connections and friendships are made and sustained, information is sourced and shared and they are active digital citizens creating content to impact positively on others.

But for some young people, their online lives can be a source of stress, anxiety and abuse. This blog is to raise awareness of this debate. For me, knowledge of ACEs and lifelong effects on health outcomes is crucial for strengthening the working together of safeguarding professionals – and bridging the gap between child and adult services across the professions. I was delighted to be part of the Q&A at the Resilience film alongside Cath Knibbs.  I met many parents, carers and professionals who were all passionate about protecting our children – ensuring that, through sharing this knowledge, we can make a difference.

Lynn Findlay.

[1] Cath Knibbs – https://www.cybertrauma.com/
[2] The Academy SPACE – http://www.counsellingacademy.org/
[3] Future Screening of Resilience – http://dartmouthfilms.com/resilience
[4] The original ACES study 1998 – https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/about.html
[5] The Wales ACES study 2015 – http://www2.nphs.wales.nhs.uk:8080/PRIDDocs.nsf/7c21215d6d0c613e80256f490030c05a/d488a3852491bc1d80257f370038919e/$FILE/ACE%20Report%20FINAL%20(E).pdf

Trailer for the Resilience film – https://vimeo.com/137282528