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Digital Childhood – Addressing Childhood Development Milestones in the Digital Environment

Authors: Beeban Kidron and Angharad Rudkin

This Digital Childhood paper considers how growing up in the digital environment directly impacts on a child’s development trajectory. It concludes that a managed route from infancy to adulthood is as important in the digital environment as it is in the analogue world.

The digital environment was conceived as an environment for adult users. Not even its inventors thought it might one day be a place where childhood would be spent. Nor did they make any design concessions for child users. On the contrary, the utopian vision was that all users would be equal. And if all users are equal, then a child user is treated as if they were an adult.

This urgently needed report describes the narrative of children and the digital environment. It defines their needs as a series of opportunities and requirements that align with their age and meet their development goals, rather than the current emphasis on a narrow set of adult-identified harms.

For many readers this will be the first time that they have considered how the design and purposes of the digital world impacts on children and young people’s ability to meet their childhood development milestones. The report takes each age group in turn, sets out what we know about child development, the major digital interactions of children at that age, and then considers the risks and opportunities.

Where there is existing evidence, it is cited and where the authors have extrapolated from their professional practice, it is indicated. In order to gather the range of expertise necessary it was imperative to consult across a large number of professional disciplines.

The conclusion across all disciplines was unanimous. We need to recalibrate how we treat children in the digital environment.