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Childhood in the digital age
Childhood in the digital age

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1.1.1 From zero to eight

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Figure 2 How young is too young to be a digital child?

It’s difficult to ignore the rapid rate at which young children’s access to technology is growing, especially with the introduction of tablets, touchscreen devices and the internet. The sudden increase in the adoption of technology applies to younger and older children alike.

Both Ofcom (2014) and the NSPCC (Jütte et al., 2014) found that one in three children owned their own tablet. Figures published by the NSPCC also show smartphone ownership increasing with age (20 per cent of 8–11-year-olds and 65 per cent of 12–15-year-olds) (Jütte et al., 2014). These profound changes are reshaping children’s digital environment.

The recent EU Kids Online Network project, called Zero to Eight, illustrates just how pervasive technology is becoming for younger children. The project report identified a significant increase over the previous five years of children under nine years old using the internet (Holloway et al., 2013). In particular it noted a growing trend for very young children (pre-schoolers) to use tablets and smartphones to access the internet:

There is an emerging trend for very young children (toddlers and pre-schoolers) to use internet connected devices, especially touchscreen tablets and smartphones. This is likely to result in an increasing number of very young children having access to the internet, along with a probable increase in exposure to risks associated with such internet use. 

(Holloway et al., 2013, p. 4)

There is a note of caution here. Professor Sonia Livingstone, the lead author of the EU Kids Online project, has previously shown that children are now going online at a younger age, and warned that often their ‘lack of technical, critical and social skills may pose [a greater] risk’ (Livingstone et al., 2011, p. 3). The challenge for parents is how best to manage the risks alongside the benefits; this is an issue you will think about later.

You may like to read an extract from Holloway et al., 2013 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] on this subject.