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Most adolescents happy with digital activity, Children’s Society finds

21 January 2022

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MOST adolescents are happy with their digital activity, and only a minority say that they felt their time online was affecting schoolwork or family relationships, a study published by the Children’s Society suggests.

The Children’s Society asked about 2000 young people aged ten to 17 (whom it defines as “adolescents”) about the impact of the time that they spent online. They were questioned during the Children’s Society’s 2020 annual household survey, which asked households about their lives and well-being between April and June 2020. The responses therefore reflected experiences during the first national lockdown. Researchers looked at the link between answers to questions on internet use and their responses to other questions, such as on life satisfaction.

The results were published in a report, Net Gains? Young people’s digital lives and well-being, published last Friday.

Only 13 per cent said of the young people surveyed that they felt that online activity had a negative impact on their school work, and nine per cent felt that it had had a “mostly negative” effect on family relationships.

Children were most likely to say that being online had a mostly positive effect on their relationships with friends and on their well-being. Young people were least happy about how they came across to others online, which the Children’s Society said could reflect concerns about appearance, as well as concerns about “netiquette”: knowing what to say and how to be accepted online.

The charity said that, although many studies had been done about the impact of time spent online by children and young people, few studies had spoken to the children themselves about how they felt about their digital lives.

Phil Raws, a senior researcher at the Children’s Society, said: “We wanted to know what young people themselves felt about their digital lives and how being online affected them, their relationships, and some of the things they do offline. This was partly because their views have been missing from research and debates around safety, education, mental health, and well-being, and other issues which are often linked to their use of digital technology.

“The survey responses tell us that many young people recognise that being online can have good and bad impacts on different aspects of their lives, although some feel that their digital life has no impact at all. This points to the challenges of understanding the effects of time spent online.

“We need to do more to explore this — to understand why some felt that the impact was negative on their school work, for example, and whether this has changed with the dependence on virtual schooling during recent lockdowns or when young people have been in isolation at home.

“Young people’s ratings of what they do or experience online suggest that most of them are relatively happy, but some are having mostly negative experiences, and may be developing a pessimistic outlook about their lives online. We need to find out more about this group — about who they are, why they are unhappy online, and what needs to change to address this.

“One thing that came across clearly from our review of international research was that we need to widen our focus if we want to improve young people’s health and happiness overall, and reduce online harms in a sustainable way. There is emerging evidence that negative online experiences or excessive time spent online may be symptoms rather than the cause of mental ill health.

“Similarly, online harms seem to be more likely to be experienced by young people who come from a disadvantaged background. “

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