copy the linklink copied!Chapter 1. Childhood in the digital age

What is the nature of childhood today? On a number of measures, modern children’s lives have clearly improved, thanks to better public safety and support for physical and mental health. Many children have access to smartphones and the limitless opportunities the digital world provides before they can walk or talk. At the same time, 21st century children are reporting more stress and anxiety, and the omnipresent nature of the digital world brings new risks, like cyberbullying, that follow children from the schoolyard into their homes.

This chapter provides an overview of trends in child physical health, emotional well-being, families and peers, and digital technologies. Setting the stage for the rest of the volume, it takes a special look at the intersection between two of those themes: emotional well-being and digital technologies. It ends with an overview of the publication and the policy questionnaire that generated the country-level solutions to shared challenges.


copy the linklink copied!Understanding childhood today

What is the nature of childhood today? Older, better educated parents are increasingly advocating for their children and playing an active role in their education. Safer environments and better regulations (for example, on physical play spaces, and more effective bicycle helmets and car seats) have helped reduce child mortality due to accidental injury across the OECD. New technologies empower children’s self-expression, information seeking and socialisation, and in times of need, help could be just a phone call – or WhatsApp message - away. On a number of measures, modern children’s lives have clearly improved: better health care, public safety, and support for their physical and mental well-being (OECD, 2016[1]; OECD, 2019[2]).

At the same time, there are signs of new stresses. Children in the 21st century are increasingly pushed to do more by overprotective “helicopter parents” who hover over their children to protect them from potential harm. Modern parents are also more likely to share images of their children online without their consent, potentially raising concerns around online safety and security. On an emotional level, children are reporting more stress and anxiety, including increased expectations and pressure to excel in an ever more competitive educational environment.

On a physical level, children are reporting less sleep. Child obesity is increasing across the OECD, bringing with it a host of potential physical, social and psychological challenges. There are worries that children are spending less time on old-fashioned activities like running around outside in favour of time in front of a computer screen. Technologies which help parents stay connected to their children also make it more difficult to monitor children’s behaviour once they have their own devices. And the omnipresent nature of the digital world means that new cyber risks like cyberbullying follow them from the school yard into their homes and infiltrate their free time.

There is an urgent need to explore the lives of modern children and better understand what this means for education. Taken together, these trends raise a series of questions:

  • What is the nature of childhood today?

  • How can teachers and schools work together with parents and communities to protect and guide children while still allowing them to be children, and learn by making mistakes?

  • What are the impacts on education, from early childhood education and care to high school, and what does this mean for teaching and learning at each stage?

Education must evolve and grow with our societies, anticipating change rather than simply reacting to problems. This work explores the potential of education systems to proactively adapt and develop along with our communities and children. The overall goal is to identify innovative, collaborative models that bring together parents, communities and schools to strengthen children’s resilience, lower their stress levels, enhance well-being and improve learning.

21st century children

The term “21st century children” evokes images of radical change, turning the corner from a previous way of being. A new century brings endless opportunity – and potentially also endless risk. Yet although modern children’s lives have changed in many ways, many of these changes have been underway for some time. The evolution of family has been 50 years in the making. Public health campaigns and medical science have been working ceaselessly for decades to improve child well-being and physical health outcomes. Rising obesity rates in children are the products of a multitude of factors, some of them intergenerational. The turn of a century does not inherently mean discontinuity with the year before it, in this or in any other time.

In the same vein, while digital technologies are certainly new (or at least only a few decades old), there has always been anxiety associated with technological change. The printing press, the radio and the car all caused misgivings when they first appeared. Communication technologies such as the cinema, radio and television have all been accused of various evils, from undermining cultural standards and encouraging vice and immoral behaviour to being used as a tool to threaten democracy (see Syvertsen (2017[3])) for a fascinating review). For modern readers, warnings that television will “rot your brain” and that the wireless (radio) could “spread information – or more precisely misinformation – in an uncontrolled way” (Hendy (2013[4]), cited in Syvertsen (2017[3])), might sound especially familiar.

While it might be tempting to look back on these declarations with fond forgiveness, it is both interesting and important to think about what these issues mean for the evidence used to inform policy and practice. The first decades of the 21st century are the intersection of a turn of a millennium and rapid technological change. However, it is important to remember that we do not start with a blank slate just because we are in a new century. While there is a need to understand what has really changed in children’s lives, it is equally important to understand what has not changed.

As part of this, it is important to guard against a very human tendency to over-dramatise, particularly when it comes to turns of the century and disruptive technological change. In order to do this, it is import to return to research and evidence as a starting point, in order to understand the reality of children’s lives and to devise responsible policy solutions to challenges observed. This is just as important for the social sciences – including education – as it is for the medical sciences, as Box 1.1 demonstrates.

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Box 1.1. When hyperbole meets science: The example of sleep guidelines

The rigour of medical research is often vaunted in education. Yet Matricciani et al’s (2012[5]) systematic review of 32 sets of medical recommendations for sleep duration dating from 1897 to 2009 is startling. They found that “Recommended sleep duration consistently exceeded actual sleep duration by about 37 minutes… as if children always needed extra sleep, no matter how much they were actually getting. The rationale for sleep recommendations was also strikingly consistent for more than 100 years: children were overtaxed by the stimulation of modern living, although that stimulation was embodied in whatever the technological avatar of the time was”. These “stimulations” included schoolbooks, radio, television and the Internet.

The review also highlighted the “consistency with which authors acknowledged the lack of empirical foundation for their recommendations, despite extremely detailed and quantified guidelines. It is remarkable that after more than 100 years, sleep recommendations are still being issued in the acknowledged absence of meaningful evidence.”

Source: Matricciani et al. (2012[5])

Four themes

Returning then to the initial question: what is the nature of childhood today? This is an enormous question, covering everything from philosophical treatises on the worth of the child to social and political interpretations of childhood, and more. In order to operationalise our understanding of the transformed context of childhood, a decision was made to focus on four main themes1: physical health, emotional well-being, digital technologies and peers and families (see Figure 1.1).

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Figure 1.1. 21st Century Children: Four main themes
Figure 1.1. 21st Century Children: Four main themes

These four themes are interrelated, and they also interact with broader societal trends. One example is inequality: a greater concentration of income among the top 1% is associated with lower life satisfaction and a higher likelihood of reported stress, anger, pain, worry and sadness in those outside of this category (Burkhauser, Neve and Powdthavee, 2016[6]). Socio-economically disadvantaged individuals are more likely to engage in risky lifestyle behaviours such as drug use. They are also more likely to have reduced access to services (costs, location, transportation), including safe facilities for physical activity and green space (OECD, 2015[7]).

In terms of education, disadvantaged children are also more likely to have poorer educational attainment, lower academic performance and increased rates of grade repetition (OECD, 2018[8]). Furthermore, inequality is persistent; children from low-income families are also more likely to fall into poverty later in life (OECD, 2017[9]).

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Box 1.2. The 21st Century Children project

The OECD/CERI project 21st Century Children was launched in January 2017. It aimed to:

  • identify relevant multidisciplinary research and develop an analytic framework to link to education research and policy

  • share experiences and common challenges countries are facing and identify examples of good practice

  • determine research gaps and issues in need of further study.

The project works through extensive reviews of multidisciplinary research, expert meetings, a policy questionnaire and a series of thematic conferences. The work is deliberately multidisciplinary, drawing from a number of different policy and research traditions. It also takes a lifespan approach, looking at childhood (ages 0-18) as a whole, regardless of the structures of our education systems.

This volume will focus specifically on two of these themes and their intersections: emotional well-being and digital technologies. Friendships and families – both how they shape and are shaped by these themes - are interwoven into the discussion throughout. Before turning to the specific focus of this volume, this chapter will provide a brief overview of each of the four themes.

Physical health

Good physical health can help children and adolescents learn in the classroom and participate in their communities and broader society. On average across OECD countries, behaviours related to poor physical health outcomes among children and young people have increased from 2000 to 2016 (see Aston (2018[10]) for a full review).

Examples of such trends include increases in rates of inadequate physical activity (less than 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day), overweight and obesity, and poor dietary habits including increasing overconsumption of soft drinks, sweets, salty snacks and fast food (OECD, 2017[9]). The duration and quality of sleep has also been decreasing over time (Matricciani et al., 2012[5]; Reiter and Rosen, 2014[11]).

Encouragingly, recent data illustrate that for some OECD countries, rates of overweight and obesity have stabilised in children (OECD, 2017[9]). Recent data also indicate that fruit and vegetable consumption among children in some OECD countries has increased (OECD/EU, 2016[12]). Another positive trend is a reduction in alcohol consumption and tobacco use (OECD/EU, 2016[12]). Trends in second hand smoke exposure are less clear, however, and studies indicate that as many as 39% of children under 15 years old may be exposed. Most of this exposure occurs during infancy, with periods of exposure diminishing once children begin school (Milanzi et al., 2017[13]; WHO, 2016[14]).

These trends are related to increases in preventable health conditions like type II diabetes and poor cardiovascular health. Data from the Global Burden of Disease project indicates that 18.5% of disease burden globally is attributed to cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, alcohol use disorders and type II diabetes specifically (Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, 2017[15]; WHO, 2008[16]). It is important not to understate the concerning nature of these statistics: historically considered diseases of adulthood, cardiovascular diseases and type II diabetes are now evident in children as young as two years old (Van Buren and Tibbs, 2014[17]).

Improving and maintaining physical health can be achieved by supporting and modelling healthy lifestyle behaviours in school, at home and in the community (OECD, 2019[18]). Interventions that involve stakeholders (including educators, parents/caregivers, policy makers and primary care providers) in the design and implementation, and use technology where appropriate, can change the behaviour of children and adolescents. Investment in improving health must consider how stakeholders can work together, and how health can be embedded in education to enable interventions to improve and maintain the physical health and well-being of children and adolescents in OECD countries.

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Box 1.3. The importance of play

Play contributes to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of individuals. It helps develop creativity and imagination, can tune fine-motor skills and physical fitness, and is a building block of social interactions and collaboration. It is so important, in fact, that it has been recognised by the United Nations' Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989[19]) as a right of every child.

Despite this, in some countries there is a concern that higher levels of stress and pressure (in school and out) result in less time for play, particularly active and unstructured play. Factors that play a role in this shift include (OECD, 2019[20]):

  • increased urbanisation, lower levels of trust and more restricted access to open natural spaces resulting in the perception of increased risks and violence and thus limiting tolerance for unsupervised play

  • overscheduling of out of school time with structured activities for some children, while others lack adult supervision and stay indoors engaged in unstructured but passive activities, such as watching television.

These elements play out in families, schools and communities, and even in the policy and regulatory world. There are some signs the trend might be reversing: new initiatives to support play (including "risky play", such as climbing trees and other activities that come with a risk of injury) are being developed (Brussoni et al., 2015[21]).

Emotional well-being

Emotional well-being is crucial for our daily lives and overall well-being. Childhood and adolescence are critical neurological developmental periods and nearly one in two mental health problems among adults begin by age 14. On average across OECD countries the following trends in emotional well-being have been identified (see Chapter 3, also Choi (2018[22]) for a full overview):

  • Rates of suicide decreased between 1990 and 2015 for 15-19 year olds, with some notable exceptions (e.g. Korea, Mexico and New Zealand).

  • Levels of bullying and somatic complaints (e.g. headache, stomach ache, feeling dizzy) have remained unchanged.

  • There are higher rates of depression and anxiety, and lower reported life satisfaction.

It is important to raise awareness and to seek help early on for mental health problems, particularly for children and adolescents, as these problems tend to recur and have lasting negative consequences on life satisfaction, education and labour market outcomes.

Stable and positive relationships with parents and teachers are essential for improving children's well-being and social and emotional skills. Parents and teachers who respect and trust children, provide support when they are facing difficulties and care about their well-being can help them become resilient and better cope with adversities in life. On the contrary, poverty, family dysfunction, abuse and history of mental health disorders pose significant risks to child well-being (see Choi (2018[22]) for a full overview).

Families and peers

Socialisation and relationships have a significant impact on one's life and well-being. Families play a huge role in children's cognitive, developmental, educational, labour and health outcomes, particularly at the youngest ages. In addition to families, peers play an important part in social and emotional development, especially from middle childhood through adolescence.

Outside the family setting, how individuals form relationships with their friends and peers has also changed in recent years. Increasing diversity in our societies means that children and adolescents in OECD countries are more likely to meet and interact with peers and teachers from different cultural backgrounds, ethnicities and sexual orientations. In addition, social interaction has changed significantly with the increased use of digital technologies, particularly for adolescents as heavy users of texting, instant messaging and social networking sites.

Families and friends are crucial in shaping skills, and can affect later outcomes. The age and life phase is important when considering the role of parents and peers in a child’s life:

  • early childhood: strong parent-child attachment is associated with positive physical, social, and emotional development

  • middle childhood: peers are increasingly important, family is still central

  • adolescence: peers are key, but family is still important.

Digital technologies

Whether it is to acquire new skills, or connect with distant as well as near friends and family, the Internet plays a central role in children’s lives. Access to online information and services has become so important that several national governments, including those of Costa Rica, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece and Spain, have formally recognised Internet access as a human right.

A review of the literature on digital technologies highlights the following trends (Hooft Graafland (2018[23]), see also Chapter 2 for more detail):

Closing the first digital divide: Access to technology

Most children in the OECD are connected, and they are spending increasing amounts of time online. In 2015, 91% of 15-year-olds who took the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reported that they had access to a smartphone, 74% had access to a portable laptop, 60% had access to a desktop computer and 53% had access to a tablet with Internet connection. Students spent almost two and a half hours online outside of school on a typical weekday, and more than three hours on a typical weekend on average across OECD countries.

Another major trend is that children are accessing the Internet at younger ages: on average across OECD countries, 18% of students in 2015 accessed the Internet for the first time before reaching the age of six, up three percentage points from 2012. Importantly, time spent online by children is significantly correlated with time spent online by parents, as well as the availability of technological devices in the home environment.

The second digital divide: Inequalities in skills and use

Digital skills can be classified into four broad categories (Helsper, Van Deursen and Eynon, 2016[24]):

  • operational skills to use the Internet and other computer equipment

  • information-navigation skills to search, find and understand information on the Internet and to verify and evaluate sources

  • social skills to communicate and interact online and build digital social capital

  • creative skills to create and share quality content online.

Children’s digital skills are affected by the quantity and quality of their digital experience. Although access to technology has now generally become widespread across OECD countries, the second digital divide (that is, how the technology is used) is a serious concern.

Outside school, disadvantaged students tend to prefer using the Internet for chatting rather than sending emails. They are also less likely to use the Internet to read the news (55%) or to obtain practical information (56%) in comparison with advantaged students (60% and 74%, respectively) (OECD, 2017[25]).

Disadvantaged students may also not be aware of how to take advantage of technology resources (e.g. MOOCs [Massive open online courses], financial services or job searching platforms) or lack the skills, motivation and engagement required to turn online opportunities into offline opportunities (Hatlevik et al., 2018[26]).

Although schools are often seen as the best environment to even the playing field between advantaged and disadvantaged students, there are concerns about the capacity of teachers to equip children with sound digital skills. Teachers consistently report “use of ICT skills for teaching” as their second highest need for professional development, after teaching students with special needs (OECD, 2018[27]).

Digital risks

The more time children spend online, the more they are exposed to digital risks, such as cyberbullying, sexting and harmful user-generated content. It is important to identify which children are more vulnerable to digital risks and compulsive Internet use in order to help protect them. Risk factors include (1) personality factors such as sensation-seeking, low self-esteem and psychological difficulties (acting both as causes and consequences of Internet addiction disorders), (2) social factors, such as the lack of parental support and peer norms, and (3) digital factors, such as specific online practices, online sites and skills (OECD, 2018[28]; Anderson, Steen and Stavropoulos, 2017[29]).

copy the linklink copied!Special focus: Emotional well-being and digital technologies

The extent and intensity of Internet use has given rise to concerns about potential impacts on physical and mental health. There is thus an urgent need to better understand the relationship between emotional well-being and digital technologies. From PISA 2015, we know the following (Hooft Graafland, 2018[23]):

  • On average, 54% of students reported that they felt bad when no Internet connection was available.

  • In European countries, socio-economically disadvantaged students were more likely to report that they felt bad without available Internet connection, compared to advantaged students.

The mass use of digital technologies is a relatively recent phenomenon and there is limited hard evidence to date on whether digital technologies, including social media, cause mental health problems in children and young people (OECD, 2018[30]). The “Goldilocks” hypothesis argues that moderate use of technology can have a positive effect on children’s mental well-being (Przybylski and Weinstein, 2017[31]). Moderate use allows children to take advantage of the opportunities provided, such as connecting to friends through social networks and using the Internet to seek information. Children use the Internet to enhance their existing friendships and stay in touch. In fact, children tend to disclose more intimate details with friends online, which facilitates different (and sometimes closer) relationships (see Chapter 5). A systematic review of the literature found that the most robust studies suggest that the relationship is U-shaped, where no use and excessive use can have a small negative impact on mental well-being, while moderate use can have a small positive impact (Kardefelt-Winther, 2017[32]).

This is a fast-changing field and it is key to continue to connect to emerging high quality research to guide policy and practice. For example, returning to the topic of risks, many parents use time limits and bans on particular activities or content. These restrictive strategies work to reduce risks, but come at the cost of digital opportunities (OECD, 2018[28]). Parents who are more confident in their own or their children’s digital skills tend to take less restrictive approaches. By encouraging and taking part in digital activity with their children, such parents create a safer environment without hindering children’s agency and learning, helping them better manage risk (Livingstone et al., 2017[33]).

The intersection between emotional well-being and digital technologies is also expressed in other ways. Technology is influencing parenting styles and social media permit parents to share images of their children online, often without their consent. This can be detrimental to children and potentially increases concerns of online safety and security (see Chapter 6).

There are also data being generated when children use digital technologies, some of it obvious (for example, when they have to sign in to an app). However, developments such as the Internet of Things mean that children and adolescents might be connected without recognising that they are. Data generated by online activities or through digital toys or household personal assistants like Siri and Alexa, for example, means that visual data, voice recordings and metadata can be collected from a range of devices not always considered “computers”. How this data is used, by whom, and for what purpose is an area with important research and policy implications.

Despite the importance of these issues, there appears to be a disconnect between the available evidence, media and public perception and the policy approaches proposed. Box 1.4 provides one example of this.

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Box 1.4. Disconnect between research and policy: The case of Internet addiction

One of the most sobering examples of the disconnect between research and policy/practice is the case of Internet addiction. There is little evidence suggesting that a significant number of children/adolescents are dependent on devices to the extent that they are at risk of significant negative health outcomes, or that they experience a severe impairment in a major area of their lives, the definition of addiction. The literature on this topic is problematic in a number of ways, namely (Kardefelt-Winther, 2017[32]):

  • There is no consensus on how to define or measure this type of behaviour, and researchers disagree whether digital technology should be considered addictive or not.

  • Careless use of addiction terminology can downplay real consequences of addictive behaviours, while overstating risks of harm for those who potentially engage in excessive, yet not harmful, use of technology.

  • Claims that “new technology ‘re-wires’ children’s brains” resulting in development of addiction are largely unfounded – changes in the brain (i.e. plasticity) are normal developmental processes in childhood and adolescence, and any major ‘rewiring’ as a result of technology use is unlikely.

Policy and practices aimed at improving children’s emotional well-being should thus focus on factors such as family functioning, social dynamics at school and socio-economic conditions. Instead of focusing only on outcomes related to time spent on digital technology, researchers should pay more attention to the influences of the content children encounter and the activities they participate in online, in addition to their social and family environments.

Sources: Kardefelt-Winther (2017[32]) and UNICEF (2017[34])

For education, policy and practice, implications include understanding how to foster digital literacy and resilience, to help strengthen the well-being of the most disadvantaged students. It means understanding how partnerships work and what capacities are required at each level of the system to be able to take advantage of the knowledge of diverse actors. It means thinking carefully about the skills and competencies required of teachers and school leaders in a digital world, and providing the tools and support needed to build those capacities.

Crucially, given the speed of change of digital technology, this means additionally thinking through how to continue to develop those skills, tools and partnerships for what is essentially a moving target. At the present moment, very few systems appear to be able to do this well and consistently, and a lack of common definitions and reliable measurements makes this particularly challenging on an international level. Yet internationally comparable evidence is essential to understand and track trends in the inherently borderless digital world.

Overview of the volume

The extent and intensity of Internet use has given rise to concerns about its potential impact on physical and mental health. There is thus an urgent need to better understand the relationship between children’s emotional well-being and use of digital technologies. The volume is organised in four parts, tied closely to the work done by the OECD/CERI 21st Century Children project.

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Box 1.5. OECD/CERI 21st Century Children project policy questionnaire

The 21st Century Children Policy Questionnaire explored common challenges and policy initiatives regarding children in the 21st century along four main themes: new technologies, emotional well-being, families and peers, and physical health.

The questionnaire was circulated to the CERI Governing Board members for responses between September 2018 and February 2019. Respondents were asked to reflect their ministry or government’s view regarding the various challenges and themes under study.

26 countries and systems responded to the questionnaire: Australia, Belgium (Flemish Community and French Community), Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom (Scotland) and the United States.

Responses were submitted by the Ministries of Education or other responsible coordinating body for Education of each system. In many cases these responses integrated information from other ministries, including International and Foreign Affairs, Public Health, Justice, Social Affairs, Environmental Protection and Regional Development, Culture and Sports.

The responses to this questionnaire offer a detailed illustration of the challenges that education ministries face in working to reinforce emotional well-being in a digital age. Countries also provided a rich set of examples of innovative solutions to these challenges. Both the challenges and solutions reported will also be featured across the publication.

Part I: Setting the stage: 21st century children

Following this introduction, the next two chapters, also written by the OECD Secretariat, combine extensive reviews of the literature with the challenges reported by countries and systems in the policy questionnaire. Chapter 2 examines Children and digital technologies: Trends and outcomes, covering Internet use and time spent online with the outcomes and impacts of those trends. It also looks at high priority challenges identified by OECD and partner countries in this area, as well as the interconnections between those challenges. Chapter 3 covers Trends in children’s emotional well-being, covering mental health indicators and key protective and risk factors underlying these trends. It also looks at the high priority challenges in emotional well-being identified by OECD and partner countries as well as the interconnections between these challenges.

Part II: Setting the stage: Children’s relationships in the 21st century

Part Two of the volume turns its attention to children’s relationships and the supporting players in their lives, from parents to peers. Chapter 4, also by the OECD Secretariat, looks at Parenting and friendships in the 21st century. It reviews the literature on the importance of positive and supportive relationships for children and provides an overview of parenting styles and what we know (and don’t know) about their impact. It highlights helicopter parenting across the OECD and concludes with a look at friendships, both traditional face-to-face and virtual.

The focus on friendships continues with the contribution of Gustavo Mesch, who takes a closer look at Online and offline friendships. While social circles were traditionally restricted to friends met in the neighbourhood, at school or through extracurricular activities, the rise of the Internet has made geographical proximity and social similarity less crucial in making friends. Are online relationships replacing "higher quality” offline ones? Or are they potentially improving friendship networks and empowering disadvantaged groups? Chapter 5 addresses these questions and more.

Shifting to parenting, Andra Siibak’s contribution explores Digital parenting and the datafied child. The chapter reviews digital parenting practices, beginning at the earliest stages with fertility and pregnancy apps and continuing through early childhood with the use of mobile applications and baby monitors to ease parental anxiety. The example of sharenting (i.e. the parental practice of sharing information and photos about one’s children on social media) is provided to suggest that such digital parenting practices not only jeopardise children’s rights and privacy, but they can also lead to negative outcomes affecting both the parent-child relationship as well as the well-being of the child.

The last chapter in this section takes a step back and looks at The social context of adolescent relationships. Catrin Finkenauer and colleagues examine the way in which global trends affect relationship behaviour and maintenance during adolescence. Issues such as climate change, forced displacement, individualism and digital technologies all affect adolescent development, relationships and mental health. Adolescents not only directly experience the outcome of social changes, but will also be the key driver for social change.

Part III: Online opportunities and risks: Ensuring child well-being

Part Three of this volume examines the complex interplay between online opportunities and risks, using the lens of child well-being. The section begins with a focus on screen time. Daniel Kardefelt-Winther’s review of the evidence on Children's time online and well-being outcomes summarises existing evidence as well as emphasising the methodological limitations that exist in this area of research. In particular, it highlights the general lack of conclusive evidence of the impact of technology on children, and calls for a more careful consideration of methodological limitations in research and policy.

Ellen Helsper and Svetlana Smirnova examine disparities of digital outcomes against the backdrop of social inequalities in Youth inequalities in digital interactions and well-being. In particular, this chapter explores how information and communications technology (ICT) access, skills and uses relate to different socio-cultural and well-being outcomes. Inequalities for young people are examined from all socio-economic backgrounds but highlight the experiences of the most disadvantaged – young people not in employment, education or training.

And finally, Elettra Rochi and Lisa Robinson look at Child protection online. As part of the renewal of the 2012 OECD Recommendation for the Protection of Children Online, this chapter highlights challenges faced by governments which underline the dynamic nature of online protection as a public policy and legislative area. It provides an overview of recent developments in online protection policy for children and examples of recent regulatory responses across OECD countries.

Part IV: Children as digital citizens: Policies and partnerships to foster digital literacy and resilience

Part Four looks at the larger issues of children as digital citizens. Authored by the Secretariat, it provides a series of examples from country policy initiatives to address many of the challenges laid out in the preceding sections. Chapter 11 looks at Fostering digital literacy and well-being, highlighting the important efforts countries have made to close digital divides and strengthen digital literacy while at the same time taking care of student well-being, including policies on screen time. Chapter 12 focuses on Empowering an active and ethical (digital) generation, exploring the subject of digital citizenship in all of its complexity, including country policies to encourage active users while minimising cyber risks. Children’s understanding of their privacy, netiquette and the importance of building resilience is also covered.

The last chapter in this section, Chapter 13, looks at what many of these policies mean in practice for the education world, with a special focus on Building capacity: Teacher education and partnerships. Supporting teachers to respond to new societal, economic and digital needs includes helping schools work with a diverse set of actors, some of whom (for example those from the private sector) have different aims and goals. This is a complex challenge, and the chapter looks at both some of the most difficult issues as well as examples of successes from across the OECD.

The book ends with a look to the future and the pending agenda for research and policy. Chapter 14 highlights a number of transversal themes that have emerged through work with countries and across the discussions of this publication. Gaps in our knowledge and areas for improvement are then identified, followed by orientations for policy, research and practice. As many of these issues are a continuously moving target, education must work to stay ahead of, or at least on top of, the curve in terms of research, policy and practice.

copy the linklink copied!Concluding note

This volume takes a comprehensive look at emotional well-being and digital technologies in modern childhood, and the intersections between them. Its aim is to identify key changes that may fall outside conventional education discourse and the challenges they could pose for education. It suggests possible solutions to these challenges, with the goal of providing research and policy options that will help countries in educating 21st century children, and the opportunities and challenges they face in the modern world.

Education, like all public sectors, must break down its silos and work from a more holistic perspective that cuts across government departments and research disciplines. It must work with an increasingly broad variety of actors, including the private sector. It must also evolve and grow as our societies and citizens develop, anticipating change and finding preventative solutions rather than simply reacting to problems. By analysing the available research and data from a broad range of disciplines and linking these findings to educational policy and practice, this volume will explore the potential of education systems to proactively adapt and change along with our communities and children.


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← 1. The choice of themes was made in conjunction with the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) Governing Board members.

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Chapter 1. Childhood in the digital age