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Childhood in the digital age
Childhood in the digital age

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3.4 Creating responsible digital citizens

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Figure 9 What does a digital world hold in store for the next generation?

Young children are immersed in a digitally rich environment, from tablets to desktops and texting to social networks. Digital technologies have potential benefits in the areas of cognitive, social and physical development. For example, fine motor skills with various ways of pinching, dragging or tapping the screen or connecting with peers and family members across time and distance.

Technologies have huge appeal for children, and this can be harnessed to help children socialise, develop and learn but bad design and inappropriate use could instead harm children’s optimal development.

How can parents and educators support children in creating an optimal digital diet?

There is a lot of advice on the internet, which on one hand, reflects a strong appetite for this information, but on the other hand the quantity and variation in advice can be overwhelming for caregivers and educators. This is understandable given that adults raising children in the 2020s did not grow up with iPhones or Facebook. The suggestion of an intergenerational digital divide means that children may be using technology in ways unfamiliar to adults, making it increasingly difficult to protect them.

Here are some tips selected from some trusted sources, such as the Common Sense Media and LSE Blog site.

  • Adults should stay engaged and connected with children and their screen use as much as they do with other aspects of their lives together.
  • Adults should set up rules and boundaries for the content and context of technology use and collaborate with children in making these decisions.
  • Adults should act as positive examples and media mentors of technology use. They can ask themselves: how much am I using my devices per day, in front of my family, friends and on my own? How much do I post online? What content do I consume and produce?

As it is clear from these tips, simply restricting children’s access or adding security controls won’t offer all the protection they need. Threat is out there, but we need to equip children with the skills and knowledge to avoid these risks and become responsible and resilient digital citizens.

Next week you will begin to explore the exciting opportunities that technology can offer for children’s social development, and think about how social media and online interactions are changing as a result of children’s engagement with new forms of online communication.