The skills children need to thrive online

Here at Natterhub, we use the term ‘soft skills’ regularly to describe the skills children learn to keep themselves safe and savvy online. In short, hard skills include maths, reading and science, whereas soft skills revolve around communication, empathy, and self-discipline. Most importantly, they are ‘human skills’. Due to the never-ending demands of the classroom, these skills aren’t necessarily explicitly taught in school so are more commonly learnt from family and peers.

With our children leading increasingly digital lives, we not only now need them to develop these soft skills in the real world, but also online. So what does this look like?

Social skills include greeting adults and friends, and interacting with people outside of their immediate circle. In person, this revolves around making turn taking, sharing, respecting personal space and cooperating: mostly physical abilities. Online, this translates into reading the audience and making decisions about the tone of responses and comments. 

Manners: Please, thank you, you’re welcome. Polite manners are modelled by parents, family, teachers and other adults in our children’s lives. When it comes to digital communication, it’s more tricky because so often children are online without being under the watch of parents/carers. It’s important for children and young people to remember that the content they post online will remain online forever, so demonstrating good manners, respect and kindness is always a good idea. 

Communication is key both on and offline. In the real world, learning how to get your point across, making eye contact, speaking clearly… they’re all important to having a successful conversation. Although communicating online doesn’t require eye contact and signals that you’re listening, it does involve making a judgement about your audience, choosing an appropriate tone, and deciding how to best structure your comments, messages or responses. 

Choosing the correct emojis can be a challenge in itself. With over 3000 to choose from, they can help set the emotional tone of a message and help users to express themselves, but there are plenty with hidden meaning that may not always be understood by all users, especially children. 

Listening goes hand-in-hand with communication, and is often just as important. In the offline world, good eye contact and fillers (“uh-huh” and “mmm”) aid the flow of a conversation and indicate to the speaker that they are being listened to. Online, this isn’t possible and our children are relying on written responses or ‘likes’ to know they are being listened to. 

Building rapport is another way of saying ‘making friends’. Offline, our children build relationships with others based on common interests, kind behaviour and experiencing similar environments. A big part of this is growing to trust the other person. The internet can be a truly positive space in which to build rapport with other users, but of course, there are associated risks with not knowing who is behind the user profile.

Empathy is one of the most important human skills in this list. Without empathy, our children can’t see things from other people’s perspectives. Without this, their online experiences might not be positive and could be potentially harmful. Without online empathy, children won’t be able to consider how others might be feeling or how they might respond to a post, how to be resilient, and how to deal with unkind behaviour. 

Problem solving is as crucial in a maths lesson as it is when a child may need to ask for help when they get lost in a supermarket. Not only does it contribute to an independent way of thinking offline, but it supports children in thinking critically online and evaluating the reliability of online content. 

Self-control centres around sharing and controlling emotions, such as angry outbursts and interrupting other people. We explicitly teach children this when they are toddlers, but perhaps rely on their experiences to further independently develop this skill. Online, a lack of self-control can lead to content or messages being posted that can’t be permanently removed from the Internet, and could do harm in the future. 

Self esteem and self-confidence comes easier to some than others but whether it takes 5 years or 25 years, it comes from being happy with yourself and knowing you are ‘enough’. This can take some work in the real world, and online even more so. With targeted advertising, photo filters and social media influencers creating an environment focused around your child, their self esteem and self-confidence may take a tumble. It’s important for children to know how to be resilient online, just as they are offline.

How do we model these soft skills online?

When we think of technology and in particular children using technology, it’s easy to regard technology as ‘harmful’ or ‘impactful’. In truth, the technology is neutral and it’s the behaviour that happens around the tech or how tech facilitates certain behaviours that we can stay in control of. Of course, it’s an overwhelming task for parents to fully know everything about every platform their children might be using but, teaching soft skills and placing high priority on human skills for children in a digital world is the biggest step you can take in keeping children safe online. 

Natterhub has been designed to teach these human skills across the primary age range, so that they have a safe space to practise what they have learned during lessons.