As part of Children and Screens’ ongoing support and curation of cutting-edge, objective, scientifically-rigorous interdisciplinary research, we invited nearly 140 preeminent experts from 10 different disciplines in 22 workgroups to compile the latest research on the effects of media on growth and development, cognition and mental health in toddlers, children and adolescents.
The resulting findings were aggregated and published in a special supplement, “Children, Adolescents, and Screens: What We Know and What We Need to Learn”, in the highly-regarded journal Pediatrics, released on November 1, 2017.
Subsequent new research has also been synthesized and presented where applicable.
International research shows that digital opportunities benefit children worldwide. However, despite high hopes about this potential for enabling children’s access to information, education and participation, there is still insufficient evidence to facilitate best practices and policy guidelines, particularly in low and even middle-income countries. This review of existing research suggests that there are sizable gaps in our accumulated knowledge on digital technologies and children’s wellbeing and these should be addressed. The review also highlights the importance of grounding our understanding in specific cultural contexts, taking into account local values, practices, and hopes for the use of technologies. It is particularly important to recognize that digital technologies are often introduced in contexts where there are already considerable existing inequalities as well as diverse local contexts in terms of values and needs. For example, even the goals and expectations from research conducted in different countries vary greatly: while poorer countries are in dire need of research that will help find ways to increase equality in children’s access to digital technologies and educational resources, wealthy countries are seeking research that will guide concerns for excessive screen time spent by children, overexposure to commercial content, and the dangers posed by technologies for their privacy and agency. We conclude our review with a recommendation to strike a balance between the need to protect children from harm and the desire to facilitate participation that benefits them. We suggest that a collaboration among all stakeholders — parents, educators, policy-makers, media organizations, medical organizations, international organizations, and children themselves — is necessary in order to maximize positive digital opportunities for children worldwide.
What do we mean when we speak of educational opportunities provided by children’s digital engagement?
There is a wide variety of interpretations for what educational opportunities might mean, e.g., that digital technologies serve as tools to enhance learning; prepare children for the workforce to enhance their future employability; facilitate the inclusion of communities of marginalized youth; etc. Different societies have different goals and may try to implement them differently.
What is the potential downside of educational opportunities provided by children’s digital engagement?
There are concerns that the use of digital technologies in educational systems will intensify the existing academic pressures on children in some technologically advanced societies; that technologies will be used for excessive testing and invasion of students’ privacy; that educational systems will rely even more on data and metrics for policy making at the expense of other considerations; that use of digital technologies will bring risks that outweigh the opportunities; and that the socioeconomic and digital divide between populations will grow, rather than shrink.
What do we expect research to focus on when examining children’s uses of digital technologies in different countries around the world?
Poor countries are in dire need of research that will help find ways to increase equality in children’s access to digital technologies and educational resources. Ironically, wealthy countries, are seeking research that will guide concerns about excessive screen time spent by children, overexposure to commercial content, and the dangers posed by technologies for autonomy and privacy.
Key Takeaways and Guidelines for Parents
- We cannot understand children’s engagement with digital media without taking into account their life contexts. Socioeconomic, cultural, demographic, technological, geographical, political, and religious factors all play a significant role in influencing the meaning and impact of their engagement with digital media. Therefore, we require additional cross-cultural and multidimensional research worldwide, especially in the face of globalization and intensifying media use.
- There is an urgent need for collaboration among all stakeholders — parents, educators, policy-makers, media organizations, medical organizations, international organizations, and children themselves — to work towards the goal of maximizing positive digital opportunities for children worldwide, especially in relation to children’s education and participation. This is important to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and it goes far wider than working for internet safety.
- In designing national policies, including ways that parents and teachers can mediate and support children’s digital engagements, it is important to draw on research evidence that can guide the balance — in policy and practice between concerns for potential harms and hopes for the benefits that digital media use may bring.
Livingstone, S., Lemish, D., Lim, S.S., Bulger, M., Cabello, P., Claro, M., Cabello-Hutt, T., Khalil, J., Kumpulainen, K., Nayar, U.S., Nayar, P., Park, J., Tan, M.M., Prinsloo, J., & Wei, B. (2017). Perspectives on Children’s Digital Opportunities: An Emerging Research and Policy Agenda. Pediatrics, 140(140S2). doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1758S
The analysis, conclusions, and recommendations contained in each paper are solely a product of the individual workgroup and are not the policy or opinions of, nor do they represent an endorsement by, Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development.