Evidence from across the world is telling us that no matter where they are from, more and more children are relying on digital tools, platforms and services to learn, engage, participate, play, innovate, work or socialise.
Some two-thirds of the world’s almost three billion internet users are from the developing world, with the numbers growing every day. Many of these new users are children and young people; in fact in many countries, internet users under the age of 24 far outnumber the rest.
A growing body of evidence from across the world is also telling us that no matter where they are from, more and more children are relying on digital tools, platforms and services to learn, engage, participate, play, innovate, work or socialise.
There are already countless examples of how – when harnessed appropriately – digital tools can help promote human development, by closing gaps in access to information, speeding up service delivery, supporting educational and health outcomes, and creating new entrepreneurship opportunities.
The power of technology to jump across borders and time zones, to join the once disparate, and to foster social connectedness, has provided the means for the children and young people of today to participate in a global society in ways previously not possible.
Sadly, there are also new or evolving risks – exposure to violence; access to inappropriate content, goods and services; concerns about excessive use; and issues of data protection and privacy.
As it becomes increasingly difficult to draw the line between offline and online, it is necessary for us to examine how this changing environment impacts the wellbeing and development of children and their rights.
Ensuring that all children are safe online requires approaches that promote digital literacy, resilience and cyber-savvy. It is only in partnership that we can reach consensus on how to create a safe, open, accessible, affordable and secure digital world. Critically, children and young people’s profound insight must help inform, shape and drive this goal – which needs to focus on equity of access, safety for all, digital literacy across generations, identity and privacy, participation and civic engagement.
In April of this year, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and UNICEF co-hosted, in collaboration with PEW Internet, EU Kids Online, the Internet Society (ISOC), Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), and YouthPolicy.org, a first of its kind international ‘Digitally Connected’ symposium on children, youth, and digital media.
The symposium sought to map and explore the global state of research and practice in this field, and to facilitate sharing, discussion and collaboration among the 150 academics, practitioners, young people, activists, philanthropists, government officials, and representatives of technology companies from around the world.