Investigating Risks and Opportunities for Children in a Digital World

A rapid review of the evidence on children’s internet use and outcomes

February 2021

Investigating Risks and Opportunities for Children in a Digital World

Children’s lives are increasingly mediated by digital technologies, yet our knowledge of how this affects their well-being is far from comprehensive. We know, for example, that the online environment exposes children to new ideas and more diverse sources of information. The use of digital technologies can expand their opportunities, reduce inequalities and contribute to the realization of children’s rights. We also know that when children seek information online and want to learn, they risk being exposed to inappropriate or potentially harmful content. Yet, when it comes to determining the long-term effects of internet use and online experiences on children’s well-being, mental health or resilience, the best we can do is make an educated guess.

This is just one evidence gap among many that need to be filled in order that society can support children’s positive use of digital technologies, develop children’s skills and protect those who are vulnerable. Filling these gaps would benefit children. Their education, relationships, entertainment, and participation in a connected world increasingly depend on digital technologies. Filling these gaps would also help to guide policy and programme responses and maximize the potential of technological advancements. Our need for this knowledge has become even more acute as internet use rises during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

This report identifies, evaluates and synthesizes what has been learned from the most recent research about children’s experiences and outcomes relating to the internet and digital technologies. It aims to inform policymakers, educators, child protection specialists, industry and parents on the latest and best evidence, and it proposes a future research agenda.

Client: UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti

Authors: Mariya Stoilova, Sonia Livingstone and Rana Khazbak

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