An evolving picture of children’s relationship with digital technology

The report, ‘Life in ‘likes’ published today by the Children’s Commissioner provides an important snapshot of the way children are continuing to evolve their relationship with digital technology, with each other, and the wider world through digital technology. It continues to be the case that there is a lot of benefit to be found, and, some areas for concern.

The report underscores the need for children (and their parents) to have a broad social and technological understanding. We have made some progress in ensuring we educate children about computational thinking, and it is great to see the Commissioner so clearly highlight the importance of understanding of algorithms ... but, we’ve still got so much further to go.

It’s also worth noting the continuing evolution across age groups. Part of this is because children behave differently at different stages in their development, but it is also because the experience of today’s 7-year old isn’t going to be the same as their older siblings, let alone their parents! 

It’s also true to say that as any parent recognises, children themselves vary enormously in terms of their emotional and intellectual development, of which age is just one factor. Each year group is living in a world that is markedly different, and their relationships with other year groups is also a factor. It is particularly poignant to hear through this report the voice of children who are worried about their parents use of social media; children are getting some education and opportunity to reflect, while their parents probably have little or none.

Another aspect that comes through loud and clear is the challenges facing children as they explore identity and relationships, and the powerful emotional impact of these systems on mental health and wellbeing. Our own work, and involvement in the PEEL project, has highlighted just how important it is for us to collectively understand the way the environment we are creating is experienced by children.

What is of paramount importance is how we respond and act.

It is incumbent on everyone working in technology to understand not only how children are using what they create, but to see their role and their responsibility in ensuring this is the best we can make it for those children.

It is incumbent on all with a role to play in the social issues and the technology to work together at a national scale to bring about a better set of outcomes.

On a local level, all of us with some measure of understanding and contribution need to be connected to and participating in our community educational activities to ensure that our friends and neighbours are aware of how they can make a positive difference to children and their digital environment.

Thematically through this report, and all that we’ve seen, we have to look at evidence and data, but never shy away from giving children a voice - in policy, but also day-to-day in the environments where they live, grow, and learn.

Julia Adamson, is Director of Education at BCS, and spent eight years as a primary school teacher. She is a mother of three school-age girls.

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Supporting the government’s ‘Digital by Default’ strategy we’re keen everyone has the skills and confidence to use IT. Here, we share thoughts on a variety of digital matters.

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