The Digital Child Centre has just celebrated its first birthday!

Written by Susan Danby

The Digital Child Centre has just celebrated its first birthday! An excellent milestone to launch our Centre blog. We heard your questions about young children and digital technologies, and we listened.

How can technology help my child to learn? How do I know good digital engagement from bad? How much technology is good for my child? How do I keep my child safe online?

The Digital Child Blog will address these and other questions, with our posts written by Centre researchers who are experts in the fields of child health, education and social connectedness, including e-safety. They will share Centre research, news, reports and publications, and other topics of interest.  We encourage you to engage with us in conversations and exchanges of ideas related to the digital child. We’d love to hear from you, so please post your comments.

In this first blog post, I’d like to give you some insight into what inspired the Centre’s establishment and some of the opportunities and challenges the Centre will be addressing.

I first became aware of the need for more knowledge and understanding in digital childhoods when I was researching young children’s home and school lives and their engagement with digital technologies. Parents and educators voiced their concerns and the tensions about digital screen time, and sometimes confessed to feeling guilty about their child’s technology use.  Families were often receiving conflicting messages about what and how to use digital technologies with and for their children. The health guidelines at the time advised no screen time for children aged two years and younger, and yet the education guidelines were more positive about technologies to support children’s learning. Parents, educators and other professionals working with children were not sure of where to go to for evidence-based and trustworthy information about how to support children in a world filled with the risk and opportunities of a digital world. The Centre aims to provide a place where you can go to for dependable information.

Who is our audience? You are! We hope that the blog reaches you, as parents, carers and professionals who guide and support children, who want to know more about young children and their engagement with digital technologies.

The past year has been a whirlwind year that brought about a range of understandings about digital technologies. Before the pandemic, there was certainly a strong public view that digital technologies perhaps were not relevant for young children. During COVID, the pendulum swung so that a prevailing view, particularly within the media, was that digital technology in the lives of young children was a necessary everyday activity, for schooling, for example.

The media shift became one of promoting the value of the digital in supporting positive futures for children. Some of you may remember a telecommunications ad that showed children living in an apartment block planning and building a detailed and complicated car racetrack over video chat – the race track goes through kitchens and temporary home offices. We saw how children used digital technology in playful ways, where the community of apartments were interconnected and peer interactions collaborating with a goal in mind!

Is this the new digital child? The video provides an exciting peek into the future of digital childhoods, but also opens up questions and issues of equity and access. Many children and families do not have access to digital devices at home, or even access to the Internet, either because of economic family circumstances, geographic remoteness, or even family choice. Either way, it cannot be denied that many children are missing out on connecting to the digital world and everything it offers.

At the heart of family life is relationships, whether playing Monopoly or Minecraft, or chatting via FaceTime or other social media sites. How do young children, not being able to spend time with extended family and friends, find ways to keep in touch in a digital world? Below is how Maggie used Messenger Kids, a free app launched in December 2017 and popular during COVID.  She is interacting with her auntie to stay in touch. Relationships and social interactions are core to children and families’ everyday worlds. This is just one of the areas of research of the Digital Child. We look forward to sharing more insights, posing more questions, and offering solutions grounded in research that will help shape positive digital childhoods for all families.

Keen to read more? 

Our researchers and partners produce regular blog posts and research outputs focused on children and digital technology.