This report looks at the connection between the ever-increasing use of connected technology and wellbeing within families.
We commissioned Dr Diane T Levine at the University of Leicester to consider how we define digital wellbeing within families. This report proposes that framed as ‘wellbeing in a digital world’, it includes the relationship between digital participation across four dimensions of wellbeing – developmental wellbeing, emotional wellbeing, physical wellbeing and social wellbeing.
Being online, in a world mediated by digital technologies, brings significant benefits to children and young people. This is already recognised by those who have an interest in their wellbeing – their families and the professionals and communities who support them. In fact, digital interaction has become almost indispensable for participation and progress in the modern world, and the development of these skills is an essential part of preparedness for adult life.
The pandemic has offered societies an opportunity to shift away from debates surrounding ‘digital wellbeing’, and towards the more nuanced concept of ‘wellbeing in a digital world’. ‘Digital wellbeing’ implies digitally-mediated wellbeing as distinct and with clear boundaries. In contrast, ‘wellbeing in a digital world’ acknowledges the complicated world in which our children and young people grow and change and offers a number of opportunities.
The report also features quotes from the authors, Diane Thembekile Levine, Alison Page, Effie Lai-Chong Law, and Michelle O’Reilly.
The four dimensions of digital wellbeing within families
There are many ways of defining and measuring wellbeing. Drawing on the wider literature and our conversations with 31 people from multiple sectors, we propose that digital wellbeing is assessed along four dimensions, which comprise:
This report was developed and validated through a literature review and through consultation with stakeholders representing the education sector, technology industry, policy, the academy, third sector, media sector, and local authorities. Internet Matters then took the model to parents and teens in a set of focus groups to understand its accessibility, how well the four dimensions resonated and how they understood their wellbeing to be impacted by their digital lives.
Through these conversations, it emerged there was some uncertainty around the term ‘wellbeing’, particularly for children where it was less wellused. However, there was a broad understanding of the concepts involved and participants were universally able to recognise some potential impact of the digital world on an individual’s
and a family’s wellbeing. This phase of the research also presented an early understanding of the differences seen within families depending on parenting style and attitude to technology. Those with stricter rules on digital
access for their children focussed on regulating their children’s screen time, whereas parents with a more lenient approach to technology use tended to speak about having open conversations and positively engaging in their children’s digital worlds to a greater degree.
For older teens, they described their online life as being effectively inseparable from their non-digital life. They were particularly aware of the opportunities it provides to be an active citizen and engage with the world in a way that only digital media can offer. Overall, these groups provided reasonable confidence that the essence of these four dimensions is valid from the perspective of those we spoke to with no significant omissions.
What the process revealed was a shift in the wider landscape away from ‘digital wellbeing’, and towards ‘wellbeing in a digital world’. This subtle change represents challenges and opportunities for those wishing to effect attitudinal and behavioural change.
The former implies digitally-mediated wellbeing as distinct, and therefore more easily targeted through intervention.
The latter implies an acknowledgement of the multi-systemic context in which children and young people live, and in which complexity must be accounted for in any unit of analysis. Future phases of research will need to strike a balance between the pragmatism needed to develop and deliver interventions – particularly for seldom-heard groups – and that complexity.
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