“Get off your phone!” How technology has actually IMPROVED children’s lives
Updated: Aug 22
When it comes to technology and childhood, connecting the two is often looked at with a sense of wariness, even outright horror. Well-worn (but difficult to verify) claims about children never playing outdoors anymore or constantly being glued to their phones are regularly spouted from all levels of society.
While it’s true that technology can have a negative impact on children and young people, especially when their access to it is unchecked, surely there are at least some positive effects? To celebrate International Youth Day 2022 we’ve decided to argue the case for technology, and why it may actually be improving the lives of young people.
Learning and studying from anywhere
The past few years have shown us just how essential the internet has become as a learning tool. It’s fair to say that if it wasn’t for the video calling, thousands of children would have been left without any education during the pandemic.
While that was a usage born out of necessity, it does highlight how all a child needs are a laptop and an internet connection and they can join their classmates to receive an education, regardless of where they are or what restrictions in movement they may be facing. Distance, weather, transport problems – no longer will any of these stop a child from joining the classroom, even if it is a digital one.
It’s worth remembering that this isn’t a luxury reserved for young people in developed countries. In 2020 Republic of Congo was found to have the fastest growing online population in the world, with a 126% increase in users. This means it won’t be long until remote learning is widely available to the children of the Republic of Congo, if it isn’t already.
When it comes to technology and young people, accusations of the former making the latter ‘more stupid’ are rarely hard to find. But is this really the case? Researchers in American Cornell University Tomoe Kanaya think not.
In a study they conducted using 9,000 children, they found that children's IQ scores were higher than those in the generation before them. They have linked this higher average IQ to internet usage, claiming the increase in stimuli can have a positive impact on young people’s development.
Of course, they did note that this may only be the case with conscious, controlled access to the internet, accepting that unrestricted exposure to the internet and technology can damage children’s ability to concentrate on singular tasks.
Increased access to information
In 2015 photographer Steve Cobby took a photograph of a group of school children in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The image, which depicted the children all staring intently at their phones and seemingly ignoring the Rembrandt painting behind them, quickly went viral. Exclamation point-laden comments about phones ruining art and children being more interested in social media than culture quickly followed.
But the photo was drastically misunderstood. Steve explained how the children had “minutes earlier admired the art and listened attentively to explanations by expert adults”, before being instructed to complete an assignment using the museum's phone app.
While this is perhaps a telling lesson in the problem of misinformation spreading online, it also demonstrates that technology and the internet can be a fantastic source of information for children. A single app or website can contain the information of hundreds of books, and make it far easier to find this information. This is particularly helpful for young people in lower-income houses who might struggle to afford multiple textbooks.
Better, wider online communities
When social interactions on the internet first begun it was met by something not too short of a social panic, proclaiming that chat rooms were awash with nefarious adults using fake profiles to take advantage of unsuspecting children. It is true that abusers often use the internet as a tool to find a groom their victims, but in general the internet has had a positive impact on children’s social lives.
The internet and smartphones have opened up new worlds and communities to young people. Online gaming, forums, and social media have allowed children to find other people with similar interests far beyond their geographical location. It has also helped marginalised youngsters find their identity and voices. Movements such as #MeToo showed young victims of abuse that they were not alone, while regular events about social inclusion such as Pride Month see posts widely shared on social media, allowing young people to interact with communities they might have previously been restricted or hidden from.