We know that being online has a significant impact on the lives of children and young people, playing a major role in shaping their behaviour and experiences. At Internet Matters, our role in supporting parents, carers and professionals to navigate the rapidly changing online world is largely focused on managing the risks posed by connected technology. However, there are also huge opportunities for positive impact. Being online allows children to connect, learn, create and find inspiration.
The creation of the Index Report
To understand more about the broader wellbeing landscape in relation to connected technology and to help us ensure all children are able to flourish online, we wanted to be able to more effectively measure the effects that it has.
We first commissioned Dr Diane Levine and team at the University of Leicester to help us create a definition of digital wellbeing. The subsequent report was created following consultation with those closest to the issue, including representatives across education, industry, policy, the academy, media and third sector. Children and families’ wellbeing in a digital world identifies four dimensions of wellbeing (developmental, emotional, physical and social) which are most impacted by digital participation and considers both the positive and negative outcomes for each.
Revealing Reality have taken this framework and, through a robust research process, created the first index focused specifically on the impact of the digital world on wellbeing for children and young people in the UK. The insights will guide our programme of work over the coming months and years. They offer wide benefits in understanding how we can better support families, and also have implications for policy, practice and digital product development as work continues on the Online Safety Bill and Media Literacy Strategy. We are excited to share this work and an initial set of observations and recommendations.
One thousand children and their parents completed the index questionnaire in autumn 2021 and the findings reveal striking differences between children of different ages, genders and demographic backgrounds across four key dimensions of wellbeing. They also demonstrate that the amount of time children spend online and, crucially, how they spend that time shapes how digital technology impacts their wellbeing.
- As children get older and spend more time with digital technology, they experience more positive and negative impacts on wellbeing.
- While displaying some positive impacts, greater social media use, especially among girls, was associated with increased negative impacts on social wellbeing.
- Greater time spent gaming was associated, particularly for boys, with an increased negative impact on developmental and physical wellbeing, underlining the importance of managing time spent in game play to achieve a healthy balance of on and offline activities.
- Vulnerable children experience more of the negative impacts of digital technology on wellbeing than their less vulnerable peers. However, vulnerable children also scored slightly higher in relation to feeling good about themselves as a result of their digital behaviour.
- Children and their parents are broadly aligned on how digital activity affects them, but having a supportive environment appears critical.
The findings suggest that the index is successfully tapping into important trends and issues in the lives of young people. It crucially shows that what children do online can shape whether their wellbeing is positively or negatively impacted. It also clearly shows that parental engagement in children’s digital activity plays a key role.
The goals and future of the Index Report
The aim of this report is to educate on how the index was created, what the data is telling us at a macro level and explore opportunities for how it may be used across the wider sector and in industry, education and policy.
In years to come, the index will be able to demonstrate whether these trends are changing, whether efforts to improve wellbeing in a digital world are working, and support decision-makers in identifying the best opportunities to support children with life online.