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Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.

The kids are online - children's media lives

Children and young people are increasingly growing up with a large percentage of their lives lived and experienced either online, or facilitated by online activities and social trends. The most recent OfCom report on children and media use provides a wealth of information about the ways in which children and young people are currently using the internet and digital services. So what can we learn and what do we already know about the ways that they engage digitally? And how can that help us use and inform digital inclusion service provision?

Consume, interact, learn and play

The four ways that children engage with the internet are dissected and explained in both the reports, showing a variety of differences between the age cohorts and the experiences of their parents and carers. Younger children had less screen time and were less likely to use social media, and older children were more likely to have their own devices and unsupervised time online. All of the children interviewed interacted with the internet and their peers in different ways and had different uses for the opportunities presented to them by digital engagement.

The most obvious initial takeaway is that children currently have a much wider knowledge and experience of digital engagement than most of their parents and carers and interact with their peers in different ways depending on the most popular apps and services. Media literacy and internet safety are two of the areas that come up throughout the reports, and this is where we as inclusion practitioners can see the most likely scope for positive action where it is needed.

Children and young people spend a large amount of their digital time on socialising with their peers, playing games, consuming videos, and using the internet for school work. Much of this, even outside specifically social networks, is often still social in nature. Their social media is often dominated by professionalised content (paid influencers and content creators) and many of the children in the study had ambitions toward or had already begun creating their own content to share with their peers (and in some cases, the wider social network, especially with apps like TikTok). However, several parents were not aware of age restrictions on apps such as TikTok and Snapchat, and many did not directly supervise their children’s activities online, instead preferring to ask their children about their experiences and trusting them to share these with them.

Children also often believed what they heard or saw online, often in social media spaces, was true. Over 10% of children between 8-17 in the study thought that all of what they saw on social media was true, and 23% thought that most of what they saw was true. This suggests that children do not always critically reflect on what they have seen online and may not have a benchmark for trustworthiness in these spaces.

Making sense of media

Anybody working in digital inclusion knows that to encourage engagement, you have to find ‘the hook’ – the aspect of digital life that encourages those who are digitally excluded by choice or ability to learn more about the benefits and necessities of digital inclusion. Most people under the age of 18 today have grown up in an environment that is entirely enveloped in the digital world and access to the internet, from schools to clubs to social organisation. The hooks for them are clear and easy to see.

All of the children of school age in the study interacted digitally in some way at school, and it was expected that school age children would have access to a device and connectivity. The majority (50%+) of respondents with children across all age groups feel that they know enough about online safety to help their children stay safe online, which makes sense given the expectation that their child would need access to the internet in some part or another of their lives frequently. At least 9% of respondents with children across all age groups neither agreed nor disagreed with this statement – they may not have thought about this as an issue or trusted their children to know how to ensure their own safety. Those who felt they didn’t know enough were then the smallest percentage.

In contrast to this, 44% of respondents reported not being aware of the opportunity to block adult content on their children’s devices, and 15% having not implemented these controls. If we compare this to the responses that consider they know enough about online safety, it’s a large percentage. If parents and carers aren’t using these controls or are not aware of them, there are clear learning opportunities around staying safe online that should be offered to help narrow this knowledge gap.

What can digital inclusion practitioners take from this report?

What is striking about the report is that for the overwhelming majority of children and young people, knowledge is not a barrier to inclusion. Most of these children have access to and knowledge of a wealth of digital options. There are of course outliers, and access is not always a guarantee, but the most obvious place to start when engaging with families about digital inclusion is by talking to parents and carers about their own levels of inclusion and how they can engage with their children’s interests and schoolwork. A more in-depth knowledge of the types if social media used by their children could also be beneficial.

If children and young people are not digitally excluded, but their parents and carers experience barriers to knowledge or confidence this is unlikely to change and comes with a level of risk. Helping adults who care for children and young people to increase their own skills and inclusion opportunities is where digital inclusion service providers can help, even if it is just offering a way to have more peace of mind over their child’s activity and providing a way for them to be more engaged with their child’s online world. Considering that children and young people are spending more and more of their time online and that over 30% of adults agree that they find it hard to balance their children’s screen time, it’s important that their families feel confident in helping them navigate the digital world safely.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you stay safe online, SCVO Digital has a wealth of resources that can help get you started. You can take a look at our digital learner pathway, take our skills checkup and see guides and links to more materials on our Connecting Scotland website.

Last modified on 30 May 2023