Childhoods in a Digital World

How quickly is technology changing – and how might it be affecting young people?

Technological development has become a key influence on childhood and is likely to grow, going forward. This will create a wealth of opportunities for children and young people but will also present new threats - all of which we must all be mindful of. For instance, it is only this year that the Government has promised to make relationships and sex education compulsory in schools. But this might have been done earlier if we had better anticipated how the internet would cause young people to be exposed to pornography, most often accidentally.

Barnardo’s does not claim to hold expertise in technology. But we do have a substantial insight into the fears, hopes, needs and expectations of children and young people, especially the most vulnerable. The children and young people we work with tell us how social media in particular is initiating or exacerbating peer pressure, sexual pressure, addictive behaviours, ease of access to sexual content and social isolation.

Our new survey reveals the pronounced effects – both good and bad – that the rapid growth of digital in recent years is having on young lives. The number of young teenagers who play outside, read books or get enough sleep has dropped in comparison to teenagers from previous decades.

Childhoods in a Digital World

However, the young teenagers of today are more likely to confide in their parents, friends and teachers when they have a difficult or embarrassing issue. 77% of 13-15 year olds said they would talk to a parent, 67% to a friend and 23% to a teacher. For adults when they were that age, it was 36%, 52% and 11% respectively.

We need to help young people tackle these real issues in their lives now.  We also need to help them to fully realise the opportunities that living in the internet age offers them.  And we need to be thinking now to make sure this continues even as the technology continues to advance.

Putting children at the centre

Barnardo’s and many other organisations have a responsibility to ensure that our children are equipped and supported with the day-to-day skills and knowledge they need to navigate this landscape effectively.

We are calling on the Government to help bring those with the knowledge of where technology together with organisations like us who understand the nature of childhood and the lives of children and young people. We need to identify and mitigate the downsides but also recognise that action now gives us a real chance to shape the future and give all of this generation’s children the opportunities their parents missed out on.

The time is now.

Read our full Childhoods in a Digital World paper, technology timeline and press release.