How are different cultures and countries managing a new generation of youth increasingly using screens for social connection, entertainment, and education? Are children using digital media in the same ways around the world? What can we learn from what other communities are doing to protect and advocate for children?
This #AskTheExperts webinar, “Beyond Borders: Global Perspectives on Digital Media and Children,” held on Thursday December 1, 2022 at 12:30 pm ET via Zoom, featured an international panel of experts who examined the latest trends in youth media habits, research, policies and parenting perspectives from around the world. While borders may be easily blurred in the digital commons, this special webinar explored the variances in regional and cultural perceptions and responses to the impacts of digital media on youth and families, and how these different approaches might be applied to advocacy for children in every community.
Sonia Livingstone, DPhil (Oxon), OBE, FBA, FBPS, FAcSS, FRSAProfessor of Social PsychologyModerator
David KleemanSVP Global Trends
Manisha Pathak-Shelat, PhDProfessor of Communication & Digital Platforms and Strategies; Chair of the Center for Development Management & Communication (CDMC)
Caleb Ndaka, MSResearch Associate; Co-founder
Amanda Third, PhDCo-Director
Patricio Cabello, PhDAssistant Professor
[Kris Perry]: Welcome everyone to today’s Ask the Experts webinar, Beyond Borders, Global Perspectives on Digital Media and Children. I am your host, Kris Perry, Executive Director of Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development. For our 55th webinar, and the last of our 2022 season, we wanted to widen our lens to examine, globally, the role and impacts of digital media in the lives of children today. Today we are joined by a remarkable panel of international experts hailing from Australia, Chile, Kenya, India, the UK, and, of course, right here in the U.S., who have come together to discuss the latest trends in youth media habits, research policies, and parenting perspectives from around the world. Together, they will examine both variances and commonalities in the ways that different countries, regions, and cultures experience and respond to the digital world. The essential elements of child development and well-being are universal, but different backgrounds and environments provide unique challenges and opportunities. Over the next 90 minutes, we hope to shed a bit more light on how youth around the world are engaging with technology, what we know about the impacts of digital media on their development and well-being, and what different communities are doing to protect, educate, and advocate for children. Without further ado, I would like to introduce you to today’s moderator, Dr. Sonia Livingstone. Sonia is a professor in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Among many other roles, Sonia currently directs the Digital Futures Commission with the Five Rights Foundation and the Global Kids Online Project with UNICEF. She is a celebrated author, researcher, policy advisor and all around expert on children’s rights and safety in the digital age. And we are so excited to have her with us today to lead this discussion. Welcome, Sonia.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: Thank you so much, Kris. And it’s a pleasure to be here and to be here with some really brilliant experts and to know that there are many people on the call who are fascinated by a topic that certainly fascinates me, which is what is happening to children and young people as they grow up in a digital age all around the world, in very different parts of the world. And, in some ways, as you said, having some very different experiences. But in other ways, perhaps there are commonalities. So, I love this title of Beyond Borders. Children’s lives cross borders and are transnational in many ways. And of course, technology crosses borders in ways that many people find quite scary because it has connected people, places like never before. And yet, even though we try not to think more and more globally and my research with the Global Kids Online Network, some people here are part of that, has been trying to do research with children all around the world and in very different parts of the world. Which is challenging in its own right. But today we want to synthesize some of the insights from research and bring them into conversation to share our knowledge and to recognize some of the ways in which the world and the Internet is not borderless. There are also many borders. There are borders around language as well as politics. And there are differences among people. The differences are often matters of inequality around geography and politics and religion and history. So there are many reasons to imagine children’s digital lives in different parts of the world would be very different. And yet there are other ways in which perhaps they do all share in a common digital experience. So that’s what we’ll examine. I’m a firm believer in the importance of research, so I’m glad we have some experts here. I think research can help us slay some myths. It can help us answer the many questions that I know this audience has and that and that you’ll be posting later. I think some questions have already been posted. I think also research can help us question assumptions. It can help us question what we thought we knew and challenge us to see the world afresh. So we’re going to be talking about very different parts of the world. Keep in mind a kind of comparative perspective. I learned this about India. How is it in Kenya? How is it in America? How is it in Chile and so forth? We’ll try to keep all the different parts of the world in our minds and perhaps before I turn over to our speakers, just say within the global kids online perspective. And that effort to think about children’s lives globally, we do try very hard to keep thinking about the risks and the opportunities in balance. And I say that because I know parents often kind of come with the risks and the anxieties to the forefront of their mind. But I think when we listen to children’s voices, they are very excited by the opportunities. Somehow we need to bring those opportunities and risks together and to recognize children’s lives in a holistic way, to kind of recognize the complexity, the diversity, but also the practical reality of their growing up in a digital world. And perhaps we’ll also learn from children’s experiences. I think there are some on our panel who are committed. The adults have something to learn from children and research can help us with that, with that process too. So we’re going to have five speakers and each is asked to speak for around 5 minutes. And they will give you a sense of their research commitment and their research insights. And then we’ll come to the Q&A and I look forward to what it is to discover what’s on the mind of everybody here. And as Kris said, we will run. And I can’t say what time it will stop at because everyone here is on a different time zone. But we will stop in about an hour and 20 minutes. So, I’m going to start by introducing – I’m going to introduce each of our speakers as they present. So, I’ll begin with David Kleeman, who is a strategist, analyst, author, speaker and connector. Very good for the digital age. Who has led the children’s media industry in developing sustainable child friendly practices for more than 35 years, and has been committed to looking worldwide for the best practices. Originally as president of the American Center for Children and Media and now a senior vice president of Global Trends for Dove It, a strategy research consultancy and Metaverse Studio. David might enlighten us about that metaverse in his presentation also. So, David, over to you. Thank you.
[David Kleeman]: Thank you so much, Sonia and thank you to Children and Screens for inviting me to be here. I’m so glad to be with such a great international panel. I am going to share my screen and I’m going to try to do a juggling act here, which is to present kind of two different perspectives in the space of my 5 minutes. We’ll see if I can actually get it all done. Where I want to start is – I want to start with a global look because we do conduct global research and then I’m going to go on to look more at North America and Northern Europe and what some of the megatrends are there. Just to let you know, the slide data that I’m going to be presenting today comes from something my company does, cover trends. We survey 2000 kids in the US and 1300 in the UK twice a year and then also 18 other countries that we visit roughly once a year in ways that are balanced in the national profile and capturing the range of kids and families in those countries. We work with 2 to 18 in the US and UK, 2 to 15 in most of the other countries. I’m focusing on four countries in the first part of this today from our most recent survey this last fall. I’ve chosen those four countries in part because the US is always the first adopter of everything. And when I get to the part about the US and North America and Northern Europe, you’ll see how that works. France is somewhat of a more traditional media culture, a little bit slower to adopt things for their kids. Parents are a little more restrictive. Brazil and Malaysia present two rather different emerging market perspectives. And I’ve chosen to focus on 6 to 11 year olds because it’s such a fascinating audience right now. As it says here, you’re one foot in preschool, one in adolescence. They are free to make their own decisions. You’ll see how technology has come into their lives at that age, and they are very eager to be in control of their own media situations. There we go. At that age of looking across these four countries, at that age of 6 to 11, they are migrating from the tablet to the smartphone. The tablet is becoming kind of the baby thing that they used when they were little for educational apps and such. But as soon as they get hold of a smartphone, then you can see that by the age of 11, in some places, 50% of kids have a smartphone that you see Malaysia and Brazil, they’re at 50%, largely because they are more Android based countries where it’s less expensive to get a phone. U.S, we are getting very close to the average age of getting your first smartphone being between, say, eight and ten. So that’s creeping up very quickly. And the television used to be the rite of passage. You get a TV in your own room. No longer. Now, it’s really getting the smartphone. This is the rite of passage. Much more of their television time and video time is spent with the big screen in the living room. We look at just how many brands and stories and things come at kids in the course of the day, and it’s just overwhelming. You can see that this is just the number of independent brands that are spontaneously mentioned by the 6 to 11 year olds. And you can see it numbers in the hundreds when you add up all those different things. And what that means is they are constantly faced with this attempt to make sense of a world around them that is just full of different stories, brands, characters, trying to get their attention. Increasingly, the brands that are their favorites are coming from the digital world. Here you can see that where the little block is in your green background, those are the digital origination brands like Roblox, like YouTube. And it used to be that almost all of the screen would have been blue, it would have been things that came from television. But now, we’ve really made a shift where kids are discovering new things through digital and their favorite things are in the digital world. They may be on other platforms as well, but they are substantially reflected in the digital world across all these four very different countries. The top apps that they’re playing with right now are advanced messaging and social. This is 6 to 11. So remember, a lot of these kids are not supposed to be on most of these platforms, but they are there. They are finding their way there. They will have a platform to fulfill their needs as they need. And you can see how important it is that they control their media environment, that they are on platforms where they get to choose what they play, they get to talk to their friends, where they get to communicate. That became especially important during the pandemic when they really had to turn to digital to connect with their friends. So let me turn now to North America and Northern Europe and look at when you have a culture of plenty, when you have so much media coming at kids, how do they manage it? There are certain problems that they face, challenges that they face. And I want to look at how they deal with those. Everything in their life competes with everything else. It’s no longer, do I watch this television program or this television program. Do I play this game or this game? It’s, do I watch this TV show? Do I play this game? Do I get on a communication app with my friends? Do I go out and play? Do I pick up a toy? And that’s why the head of Netflix says we compete with Fortnite more than we compete with HBO and lose to them. So everything competes with everything in kids’ lives. Then there’s the paradox of choice. This is the head of FX networks who says, “any time you choose one thing, you are un-choosing everything else. You don’t even know whether the thing you chose was the one thing you really wanted most. It would please you most.” And that accounts in some ways to the rise of TikTok. Instead of committing to a half hour television program, young people want to say, you know, if I don’t like something, I can go on to the next thing. And that’s one of the attractive natures of Tik Tok. That plus the fact that it’s built for the smartphone, which, as I said before, is their key platform of choice. So how do they manage it? They have a purpose for every device we find in our research. I should point out that it is not an academic organization, it’s a market organization. So our research is probably going to look a little different in its nature and in its findings from maybe some of the academic research that we’ll hear about going on. But in each case, they choose the device for the purpose that they have. So even though they have all these things in front of them. There are times of day when several of them are on at once. After school we think of as the Bermuda Triangle of media because the TV goes on, the smartphone goes on, the game controller may go on. But they really make sense of this by knowing this is where I want to spend my time with video. This is where I want to spend my time with social. This is where I want to play games. The other way we find they manage is what we call emotional scheduling. This was really surprising to us when we first noticed it through the course of the day. Kids make constant choices through the day of what they are going to be doing, and it’s largely based on their emotional state. And then finally, the other way they manage is “iCan Generation,” they want to be builders, not just consumers. They don’t want to be seen as users. And that accounts for the many platforms that they choose. This story on the right is about the kid who created the entire world from Encanto in Minecraft and then created a video of the song “We don’t talk about Bruno” using his iPad and this world that he created. That’s where I’ll stop for now, and I look forward to the discussion and I’m happy to share these slides.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: Thank you very much, David. I hadn’t heard of the Bermuda Triangle of Media before, but I think that will resonate with many parents who know exactly what that moment is. And yes, I like the iCan generation, too. So from North America and Europe particularly, we’re going to move to thinking about Latin America. I’d like to introduce Dr. Patricio Cabello, who is an assistant professor at the Center for Advanced Research in Education and the Institute of Education at the University of Chile. He’s also the head of Kids Online Chile. So we’ve worked a lot together in Global Kids online, and his research focuses on students and teachers 21st century skills. I think parents would like to know people in the audience would like to know what those 21st century skills are, analyzing especially the impact of inequalities in developing digital skills and collaborative problem solving skills in the Latin American context. So, Patricio, over to you.
[Dr. Patricio Cabello]: Thank you, Sonia. And thank you to Children and Screens and all the audience. I’m very happy to share this content with all of the panelists. I will talk about some of the findings that we had in Latin America, especially in Chile. I am not going to talk on behalf of the Latin American network, but I will share some of the results that we have achieved, some of the outcomes of this compared research program that it’s been for almost like seven years that we have been working with our mates from other Latin American countries. So I will give you just, at least something like, some of the main outcomes and some of the things that we are discussing these days. That’s a very short introduction because it’s very important for us for you to know also that we have this Latin American network that it’s kind of part of Global Kids Online, of course. We have Brazil that has been working with this data from 2012, Chile’s from 2016 and 2022, where right now we are conducting our second version of the kids online survey. And also a short, small qualitative research. Also Costa Rica have conducted this and they had planned to conduct a second wave to or are also conducting. They have just finished the fieldwork of the new version. Argentina already did something in 2016 and now it’s preparing for 2023. So this is the scope of the countries that we have been working with. And I will tell you some things that are quite common between us and of course, I have the bias of and talk a little bit more about Chile, of course. One of the most important things, I tried to organize this into two topics: households and individuals and school context. And that’s important, the thing about context, because now in our new wave, our new version of the Kids Online, we went to schools to conduct this survey. This is originally a household questionnaire where children were interviewed with a very long and very, very complex questionnaire about their experiences and also what their parents think and what they feel about their uses of digital media. What we found already is that we have a digital underclass which we call this digital underclass because it’s children that have been connected mostly through cell phones at home. That means that the need is like more than 50% in the region do that. Chile is 53%. Other countries a little bit more, some of them are a little bit less, but it’s around 50% of them are using only cell phones at home where they don’t have all the affordances of a mobile device. And of course it is not very suitable for learning and for example, using it for typing and they have various causes of memory and so on. Another thing we found that’s very important to think about digital skills for children and parents and teachers. and, And the digital skills are, of course, not fairly distributed, are actually under the influence, of course, of the inequalities of their region. The role of parental and teachers mediation, which is something that is very important for us. And there are two main types of mediation, acting versus restricted mediation. And we found that active mediation is quite more effective for giving more opportunities to children and restricted mediation has not been very effective to avoid risks. We are also a ladder of participation in this society, which is something that Kids Online have been working at by Sonia. Which is how we have been comparing, you know, how we from country to country have like the same ladder, you know. Some of the digital practices are very usual at the bottom. And creative practices, for example, of discussing, you know, high end. Lack of information for parents is something that we have found also how mediation sometimes is based on myths or inaccurate information, which is very common. In the school context, we have a lack of digital skills and ample training. In Chile, for example, 75% of teachers are not trained about digital technologies at the initial education. We have this very important difference between rural/urban reality and we have other things that we have found that we are just starting to understand more. How cyberbullying, for example, works and how cyberbullying even can be related, for example, to inequalities, to differences between genders, for example, and also how schools, for example, are getting involved in this. And this is part of our current agenda. I think my 5 minutes went so I will stop here, but I will be happy to answer any of your questions or comments afterwards.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: Thank you very much. I like that you gave a little insight into some of the behind the scenes of how one does this research, how we get hold of this kind of information about children’s lives in different parts of the world. And also emphasizing that question, we’re not just looking at differences across countries, but there are also big differences within countries. So your point about the digital underclass and also the urban rural difference I think will resonate in many parts of the world. Yeah. Thank you. I’m going to turn now to Amanda Third.Well, she’s talking, I’m told, from the Asia Pacific region, though I know she’s sitting in Australia right now in the middle of the night. So Dr. Amanda Third is a professorial research fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society, and she’s co-director of the Young and Resilient Research Center at Western Sydney University, and a faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. And she has led child centered projects to understand children’s experiences of the digital age in over 70 countries, working with lots of different partners. I think she’ll give us a sense of what it is that children have told her.
[Dr. Amanda Third]: Thank you, Sonia. I’m very, very honored to be speaking alongside the other panelists this morning. There’s indeed some very esteemed colleagues. And I want to start by acknowledging that actually some of the work that we have done in those 79 countries has been led in countries around the world by some of the people on this call. So a big shout out to them. I’m going to focus this morning on Southeast Asia and the Pacific region. I did just want to flag that we have gathered qualitative data, so really deep dive data, that in workshops with children around the world and I’ll hone in on the Asian Pacific this morning. Recently I’ve had the pleasure of leading three large projects in the region, so that’s what I’ll draw on today. I think the first thing that I would point out is just the incredible diversity of our region, as Sonia’s sort of has already begun to gestione, you know, we have children who are accessing the Internet via mobile phone under a coconut tree with lots of other children surrounding them and they’re watching YouTube videos together right through to the fortunate child who, you know, has really access to their technology. But, I think regardless of the diversity of children’s experiences across the region, what we have also ascertained is that there really are a lot of commonalities and that some of the stereotypes that we have about the differences between low and high income countries don’t necessarily apply. You have children in low income countries with lots of technology, and you also have children in high income countries in the region who are really struggling to get online. And I think that’s one of the things that we need to really pay attention to, particularly, you know, access for children across the region is fraught. A lot of children, the biggest barrier that they face is Internet access. And across the region, too, primarily, children are going online via a mobile phone. And this has consequences for the kinds of quality of experiences that they can have. Many of them are doing that via a shared mobile device. So similar to what Patricio was just saying about in Latin America, they may only have Internet access when they’re outside school, you know, using a phone in the family, that a phone that essentially may not belong to them, but even where it does belong to them, that they’re coming online via, predominantly, via a mobile phone. Like children around the world, they’re primarily using digital technologies to communicate, to connect with each other, with their families, and with networks of interest, to share information and express their ideas and to seek information. And indeed, one of the big challenges we have in the region is children being able to access information that is robust and trustworthy and in a language that children speak. Because, of course, for a lot of our part of the world, you know, the majority of the Internet is in English and so language becomes a key barrier. I want to briefly highlight some of the barriers that we’re experiencing, or children are experiencing, in the region. Firstly, access to hardware. The cost of devices and so on is often prohibitive for a lot of children. Many children still face unreliable electricity and data supply, so that really shapes how they can get online, when and what they can do, although there are some strong improvements in the region. There’s just been a new underwater cable opened up to the Pacific Islands, which means that more and more children are coming online there. But that itself, you know, now that children have access to digital technology in that part of the world, you know, that’s throwing up a whole bunch of new issues because, of course, children are coming online in a context where adults haven’t got the background with using technology to. Children in our region say very clearly that parental rules, attitudes and their limited digital literacy skills negatively impact their online experiences. So again, the restrictive kind of dimension of parenting really giving children a sense that they can’t do the things that they want to do. For example, it takes time online to craft the skills to be able to create digital content. And that’s very hard. It’s hard to take that time when your parent is telling you constantly to get off the technology. They also worry about their own digital literacy skills. The content that they access is predominantly in English and often doesn’t serve their needs. And they feel like they don’t always trust the platforms they engage with and they and they don’t always feel safe. At the same time, though, children have really strong aspirations for the Internet. They’re very excited about coming online, using digital tools and so on. They’re really wanting more support to be able to maximize those opportunities. And I think that’s a message that goes to, you know, that children around the world are sending. I just want to finish very quickly just to let you know, we do have a joint statement from four countries in the region about what they want from their digital world. And I want to highlight just a few little things here. Just to sort of give you a flavor of what children are saying. Really, they want these digital experiences to be meaningful and they want them to be good for their mental health. And they really want trustworthy platforms that will keep their data secure and respect their privacy. They want to be protected from harm and to treat each other from kindness, but to shout out to parents and teachers. They’re really calling on those groups to really know about online safety so that they can help children stay online and they want to be provided with support, guidance and information about how to protect themselves. So there’s much more there and I’ll drop a link to this particular report into the chat, but thank you for your time. Back to you, Sonia.
31:22 [Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: Thank you. Thank you so much, Amanda. You really remind me, we often say, in kind of public discourse, that we want children to be more sensible and kind and reliable and responsible and respectful online. But actually, I love that the children say now they would like the platforms, the content, the environment online to be more trustworthy and respectful and positive for their life experiences. So I think when we think of our anxieties about the digital world, we can’t hold the children solely responsible for making things better. It is also down to the, sometimes very wealthy, companies that provide this digital opportunity. So I’m going to turn now to our fourth speaker, Dr. Manisha Shelat. She’s going to speak to us about children in India. Manisha is a professor of communication and digital platforms and strategies and chair of the Center for Development Management and Communication at MICA in India. She’s leading the India component of the Global Kids Online study. So, I have worked with her and I see she’s also doing a collaborative study with the Young and Resilient Research Center of Western Sydney University. So I think she must be working with Amanda. Manisha, we look forward to hearing about Indian kids online. Thank you.
[Dr. Manisha Shelat]: I just want to start with the disclaimer that you know, certain pictures in my presentation, and these are not the actual children that I’m talking about. They have posed for this. And you will realize that it’s so difficult to represent a country like India in 5 minutes, so there are bound to be some shortcuts. And, you know, I do want to break the stereotypes. I just want to say that there’s no intention to create these stereotypes here. But, these are the shortcuts that I had to take in my presentation. What happens in India is that we have a very contradictory perception of what digital media are all about. So in one way, you know, we have parents and governments and teachers. We all think that digital media are a route to, you know, a completed degree, a well-paying job, and also nation building. And on the other side, you know, that is the schools, say that they are the root cause of everything that is evil. So all the risks, crimes, risky relationships, health issues, you know, all of that, they come to children through digital media and you see this contradiction also reflected in government policy. So for example, we have a big initiative called Digital India, but at the same time we banned Tik Tok in India and there was a huge panic around poverty and global. But despite these contradictions, you know, more and more people in India have now got access to digital media thanks to the low cost mobile data charges provided by private service delivery organizations. Also, there is more vernacular content online. The pandemic has also played a role, so there is definitely more access to digital media. But there is such huge intra-country diversity which I want to just bring forward very briefly. Again there are lots of similarities also despite, you know, all these differences of caste, class, gender, religion, open rule, and also individual interest of children also matched a lot, which we sometimes forget. So between all these differences and influences, a lot of different kinds of digital media users in schools emerge in India. I’m just representing these quickly through five profiles. Here is Aahna, she is active on YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Discord, she blogs once in a while. Digital media devices and phones are everyday part of her life, you know, a very integral part. She has a very social life. She posts pictures about her foreign trips and her activities with friends on Instagram. She also creates it on YouTube dance videos. She regularly keeps in touch with her long distance boyfriend through social media and phone and in her circle, dating apps, like Bumble and Hinge are quite common. She has access to all the audio platforms, the global digital platforms, and her media diet is a mix of Indian and global on all these platforms, and also Spotify. She is quite technology dependent in her day to day tasks. So this is one kind of Indian youth that we have. Next we have Farokh who is 14. For Farokh, they have a shared desktop at home and he’s promised a laptop when he enters college and if he scores really good marks in his school exams. So his digital media time is quite closely monitored by his parents, which he sometimes resents, but also in a way accepts, you know, as something that is good for him. So he has limited digital media time in which he usually watches YouTube videos and watches replays of cricket matches or Bollywood songs. He’s part of many WhatsApp groups like friends group, coaching, close friends group, building friends group, dad’s side of the family, mom’s side of the family. So it’s very much a part of his day. Then we have Nimrat who is 17. She has a selection, so who she can see, how she should interact, and how much time she should spend on social media, basically. And that means don’t spend any time on social media and don’t post anything about yourself, especially don’t post any pictures. And that’s why she has a Facebook account using the pseudonym and a picture of a famous Bollywood star. But she does have a boyfriend who has secretly given her a phone and that is only for, you know, talking to the boyfriend and sending messages to him. And he keeps a close tab on, you know, what it is she does on this. So she usually likes to, whenever she gets time, you know, in the pretext of meeting friends for homework, she has a shared access to other people’s Facebook accounts and YouTube videos, and she makes good use of that time. And then we have Suman who lives in a tribal village of Madhya Pradesh. Suman has benefited from a program in which the government and a nonprofit are partners. And she is part of this nonprofit squad, you know, who are trained to use mobile phones to keep a tab on environment conservation in the areas. She takes pictures and videos of illegal, you know, environmental poaching activities, tree felling, she keeps a tab of like harvested tree population compared to what it was. She shares these photos and videos in her WhatsApp network through these NGOs. Because the nonprofit has given her the smartphone, though she cannot cannot read or write, she makes use of a lot of audio and video content. Yes, Sonia. And the last one is this boy in a Mumbai slum who does not own a smartphone. He helps, you know, in the tea stall. And here he comes in contact with a lot of older boys, you know, and these are his source of everything that is available online. So he knows where porn is available and he knows, you know, how these older boys get into romantic relationships online. He also hangs out with these boys, you know, in the community, that is a big dance group and people get together, you know, young boys, to practice breakdance. And here he is watching global videos of breakdance, you know, community with them. YouTube is like the maximum used, you know, platform for him. But he does have a Facebook profile again that he has started by faking his birth date. He’s only ten, but his older friends help him do all these things. So very briefly, I am presenting, you know, the variety of Internet and digital media use that we find in India and that’s why we always that that when we have a policy or program on media literacy in India, we should make it like an Indian sari, you know, which can be draped around different bodies and, you know, different occasions and not like a very tightly tailored Western suit. So, thank you, and I think we’ll have more time during the discussion. Thank you.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: They absolutely will have time in the discussion. And I love your metaphor of the sari, which I shall think more about. I especially love the way, Manisha, you show us how children’s and young people’s media use is embedded in their daily, their life context, and their life contexts are very diverse, so they face different circumstances and that gives a different purpose and a different need for their media use, which we really need to keep in mind when we say children or young people as a as a vast generality. So I’m going to turn now to our fifth speaker, and I appreciate everyone’s efforts in keeping up with the pace. It’s a great pleasure to introduce Caleb Ndaka, who is the co-founder of Kids Comp Camp. I’m sure he’ll tell us about that. A Kenyan based digital literacy initiative that seeks to empower children and parents in rural and underserved communities in Africa with the digital skills that they need to thrive. He’s also a research associate at London School of Economics, where I am and where he and I first met. Maybe we first met on social media, actually, but I can’t quite recall. Anyway, Caleb, the floor is yours.
[Caleb Ndaka]: Thank you. Thank you so much, Sonia. Let me begin by acknowledging that my connection is not very stable, and so I will have to forego my slides and just present, which is a true reflection on what children in Kenya go through, just had two power outages. So that’s preceded by my slides and I hope that I am clear. Sonia?
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: It’s all good. Yes, absolutely.
[Clabe Ndaka]: Yes. So let me begin by introducing the work that I do. I run Kids Comp Camp, which is an initiative to help both children and parents in rural and underserved communities to catch up with a kind of digital driven society. And the way we do our work is through a computer camp model. We move from village to village, from town to town, just trying to ensure that no child present in those in a rural area is left behind by the current digital society. It’s a big pleasure for me to be here tonight. So, let me just begin by discussing the major trends when it comes to digital media. There are two big platforms when it comes to children and parents, and those two big platforms are Tik Tok, and then we have WhatsApp. Now, Tik Tok came into the market almost like the last platform, but it has grown so fast, the fastest growing platform among children and young people. And the reason for that is it has proved to be very easy to create content and share that content within the platform, across other social media platforms, as well as offline. One particular thing about Tik Tok, which has made it famous, it has become what we call the viral platform. Because it’s so easy to see content online and offline. It’s very important at this point to mention that 70% of Kenyans live in rural areas and most of them, they are offline. But Tik Tok, and especially only through this one particular feature, which is called Tik Tok Challenge, has been able to reach that gap of offline and online because kids’ devices are able to see what is happening on online Tik Tok challenges and they’re able to replicate that offline. And so Tik Tok is growing very fast because it’s been able to bring that online and offline divide, but also it’s been able to travel across rural and urban places. Just the other day I attended a school function and I saw parents and students dancing to a Tik Tok challenge, which is on all across. The second platform, it’s WhatsApp. WhatsApp has grown so fast, to being more than just a digital platform, actually being like a social infrastructure. There’s a joke in Kenya that nothing happens in a WhatsApp group. And the reason for that is because WhatsApp has become embedded into everyday use from rural to urban areas. It’s almost a de facto and every day platform. And so as you look at many other uses of digital media, for example, kids learn how to play games, all the kids learning how to bet, it’s all embedded on WhatsApp, which becomes almost like an infrastructure. And so, what are the main concerns of children and parents? Let me be clear. The parents in Kenya are concerned about three big things. First is the safety of their kids. And when I say safety, I mean physical safety. There’s been an increased number of kidnapping cases. And most of those kidnapped kids, either way of either children being groomed on WhatsApp or on Tik Tok and being in very unsafe hands. So safety, physical safety, is one of the key concerns of the parents. The other one is violence and culture. In Kenya, most of us, we are very religious. There are conservative values. And so there’s a perception among most parents. Digital media and technology is a thing of the West and this thing of the West does not really respect our African traditional values. And so parents increasingly are getting concerned that access to technology and access to digital media means being exposed to, what I’m going to put in quotes, like this violence which many a time are presented by things like photography and cyberbullying and so on. The last, but not the least, is the wellbeing of their kids. And with this, and I guess this also comes with the perception which is coming from the media, is it’s just a panic around screentime is leading to addiction or screen time is leading kids to be lazy because they’re not working in the firms, they’re now just sitting with their devices and so they’re not being productive. But then as I finish up, what can we learn from these trends and from this perception of parents? And the first lesson that I think we can learn is, and it’s well captured by an African proverb which says, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Now, that was a proverb which was used many times offline. But even in the current society, we still find it’s very true. The other day, I met a group of parents and informed the local community of proactive and reassuring ways and means they can keep their kids safe online. So access to a reliable and accessible community of practice among parents is one of the very insightful things that parents can leverage on and learn from each other. Thank you so much and I look forward to the final and contributing further on that.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: Thank you so much, Caleb, and thank you to everyone for sticking to time. I’m feeling slightly dizzy having been to so many parts of the world right now, but I’m also actually very excited. I would also like to thank everyone for putting their questions into the Q&A because we now have time for questions. And I want to draw our panelists together in offering some insights. I might begin by observing that lots of the questions that have come in are about concerns, about risk, the risks that the digital world poses to children, and the worries that adults, parents, and responsible authorities have about that. And I’m going to pick on certain people, but perhaps I might start with Amanda and say something about – Amanda, how do you think about that balance between the opportunities, some of which Caleb has elaborated, David also, and others. But also that real sense of concern about the threat, how should we, how should we focus our attention?
[Dr. Amanda Third]: Yeah, it’s a great question. And I think actually the challenge that every parent faces, obviously. I think there are a few key things to keep in mind here. And a lot of this comes out of the Global Kids Online research that Sonia and Patricio and others have been doing, Manisha. But, you know, and that is that the relationship between risk and opportunity, your benefit online for children, is not straightforward. And it’s very important for us to know what the risks are as parents and to really have a sense of the things that we can do to protect our children. But also to be mindful, to keep our concerns in check, because there are many, many benefits for children to access online. And also, I think that, you know, access you know, obviously, the more time a child spends online, the more risks they are likely to encounter. But at the same time, the more time they spend online, the more skills they develop and the more kind of protective strategies they can develop. So it’s a very complex equation. And I think and I think as parents, we have to be staying very close to our children’s digital media practices. That doesn’t mean sitting down with them every time they use the media. It certainly doesn’t mean knowing everything there is to know about being online. But it means having an openness to learning with your child and to having regular conversations with your child in order that you can actively mitigate some of those risks. But I think, as Caleb said very beautifully when he spoke, it does take a whole village to raise a child online. And, of course, it’s not enough for parents and children themselves to bear the responsibility for keeping children online. We do need to call for environments that prioritize the safety and the opportunities for our children. And so I think the other thing that we can do as parents is write letters, make phone calls, you know, call for that change as parents. Demand it as a consumer. So those are some of the things that I think we should keep in mind. But I think the other thing is I would reassure parents on this call that, you know, when people are, when you’re being a good parent and you’re watching your child’s setting examples, you’re modeling good technology behaviors. These are all wonderful things that you can do and things that actually we know from the research make a difference to your child.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: I think that’s that’s very encouraging because I think people would like to know what are the kind of practical things that they can do and that have been shown to make a difference and how can they move away from some of those kind of very restrictive parenting approaches into something we might call more kind of positive parenting. I’d like to come to David. I’m kind of remembering the fabulous amount of choice that, as you said, children are inundated with in terms of many brands. How do you think about that balance of risks and opportunities? Because essentially you describe lots of opportunities, but in that there are risks. And I don’t know how those figure in your world, and especially, I’m just looking at one of the questions that came in, which is whatever we provide for children, what do we do when some children get drawn into those more negative places?
[David Kleeman]: Well, I think in terms of the balance of risk and opportunity, I’m going to come at it very quickly from three different perspectives. And all three of those have a nod in them to the fact that governments worldwide or regulators worldwide are really looking at the digital world right now and are ready to step in and regulate. Here in the US, we are building models based on the European, the British age appropriate design code. We are at a moment right now where we get one shot at the sort of future of media for young people. And if we don’t make it safe, if we don’t protect privacy, they will step in very quickly. So a nod to them. But the three areas, one is we really need media literacy education from the earliest stages. It’s sort of ridiculous now that so many countries have not acknowledged that we teach children how to read in print, how to read text, but we still don’t acknowledge that screens and other forms of media coming to them are so immersive in their day that we really need to teach that from the beginning. From the perspective of the industry, I am encouraged by some small developments, for example, Roblox, one of the biggest platforms for kids right now, has a vice president of civil that they have someone whose job it is to come at it from two different directions. One is working with the people who make the games for the platform and say, we’re going to help you learn how to make games that encourage people to be good, to each other, that don’t create situations where the obvious choice or the preferable choices used to be bad to each other. And the other perspective, they come at it from the users. How do we teach kids to be good users of the platform? Good digital citizens? And then the third side is parents. But I’m going to acknowledge from the beginning that what I’m about to say comes from a real position of privilege. And hearing some of the presentations about how kids access media in other parts of the world, I’m a little anxious about saying this. But, during the pandemic, those parents who were privileged enough to be home with their kids and watch what their kids were doing with technology, I think often came to a better understanding of the opportunities that, you know, we’ve heard a couple of people mention how hard it is to build something when the parent is constantly saying, get off the computer, turn off that thing. When parents saw what their kids were building in Minecraft, when they saw the games that they were creating in Roblox, when they saw some of the things, the ways they were digging into their passion with Google, with YouTube, I think they came to a better understanding and a better conversation with their kids about how to encourage the good and discourage the bad.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: Nice. So perhaps I can pick up on exactly that point and take it back to Patricio, thinking both of the the question of media literacy or digital literacy, you know, what do we want to be teaching children and perhaps also parents? But I’m thinking also, Patricio, what you said about that kind of ladder of participation and how not all young people have the opportunity to kind of become so creative and to, you know, really express themselves. So, is it media education, media literacy that can enable young people to have those creative opportunities that David is talking about?
[Dr. Patricio Cabello]: Of course, the word media literacy is a very institutional word. I think it’s a word that comes from public policy, from researchers, from schools, from institutional framework. And I think it’s good and I think it’s something that we should address. But we have to address that properly, thinking always, I think. It’s my perspective that most of those digital skills that you need to, for example, create content even for critical thinking through digital media, are closely related with cultural capital, if you can say so. In cultural capital, this social capital, that some kids have with a more strong, I think, interaction with media technologies. Sometimes people call this digital age, it’s you know, that it’s a word to talk about some kids and not all the kids and sometimes to even to, I don’t know, to make a little bit to cure these inequalities. I don’t know if I’m saying this correctly.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: So you’re saying something I think about the relative affluence or education also of the parents.
[Dr. Patricio Cabello]: In some of these, yeah, it’s something that’s in the environment. And also, for example, we found that richer children, children from rich families, they have this digital access, they can access everywhere. They have mobile phones, but they also have multi device access. They have computers, they have tablets, they have everything that’s in the market. It’s not only digital technology that works on its own, it’s merged with the education of parents, it’s merged with other things that are different in the culture and in the context that they live. So for developing skills for a creative context, for example, we need something more than only digital literacy in this institutional way. We have to face inequalities in how families, for example, are dealing with this and how they’re parenting in a more active way.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: Thank you. And I might take the question also to Manisha. And now that we’re on the subject, we’re covering a lot of areas quite fast. But I think this question of digital literacy or what education can do to support a richer, deeper, more beneficial engagement with digital technologies. Manisha, can you maybe give us a little sense? Is there media literacy education for children in India? And what does it focus on? What should it focus on perhaps?
[Dr. Manisha Shelat]: Yes, there is media literacy education in India. But it’s, again, uneven. It depends on, you know, the state you are in, whether you are in an urban area, the kind of school you go to, there are also nonprofits who are very actively working in the scene. But what I feel that still a lot of media literacy education is protectionist, focusing on how not to face harm or risk. I would like to see more proactive media literacy education where, you know, schools expose children to a lot of the joyful and meaningful things that are present online, and lots of civic opportunities that are present online. Also schools closely working with parents because it’s very important that we don’t take the pleasure from kids. And so I don’t want media literacy education that takes the joy of digital media away from the kids. So I would like to see a close connection between the policies, schools, and parents, you know, and when they listen to children and then, you know, plan the programs accordingly.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: Fantastic. Thank you. So I don’t know if anyone else wants to come in on the question of media literacy, digital literacy. I know it is many hope that we really can educate young people in ways that will enable them to maximize the opportunities of the digital world. Caleb I see that you spend a lot of time really trying to encourage children and teach them what they need to know to manage the digital age. Do you feel that media literacy initiatives in Kenya are sufficiently supported and resourced to make that difference? Or what would you want to see happen?
[Caleb Ndaka]: Yeah, that’s a very good question. And the one that I spend a lot of time thinking about and one of the things that we’ve been learning from our work here is that, and picking out good examples from, you know, from, for example, Tik Tok and why it has been so effective. The element of anchoring digital literacy into local contexts. And I’m going to give an example. We are, for example, right now, something called Kikuyu Tik Tok, which is the biggest tribe of Kenya. And what we’ve seen of the last couple of months is this local comedian or local opinion leaders been able to take, for example, how to use smartphones or how to use computers and being able to put that into local language, local analogy, and being able to reach as many people as possible, especially young youth and children in young places. We’ve seen the government investing into devices, but devices in schools are not the most effective approach because we have, for example, in Kenya right now a million devices, yet like 80% of them, they are not being used because teachers are not trained. There’s technology phobia among most adults. And so kids are not being given spaces for them to explore and to learn. And so, just this element of being context specific and using local knowledge, local resources as proof to work more effectively than the, you know, the almost what I call the top down approach, rather than trying to change that to work from the community, give kids spaces, make it fun, interactive, and they’ll be able to show it that productivity and growth.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: That’s a very compelling image, really, that there is the provision, there is the resources for the hardware, but not necessarily for the teacher training or the opportunities to consult young people about what they themselves would like. And I think we’ve seen this through the history of technology, really, that there is often the policy makers get excited about buying the devices, but not about putting in the support. David, I think you wanted to come in on what media literacy could or should be doing.
[David Kleeman]: I wanted to bring in a perspective, a very practical perspective, about young people teaching themselves about it. And that is, two and a half years ago, the company I work for was 60 people, 59 of them at Leeds and myself in the UK and myself in Washington, D.C. We are now over 150 people all over the world and from all different cultures, all different economic levels, because what we’ve discovered is young people, for the platforms we are building for, young people have taught themselves how to make gains, how to make experiences, because they wanted to make the things they wanted to play, the things that they and their friends wanted to do. So entirely intrinsically motivated. They’ve taught themselves to be programmers, to be designers, to be storytellers, and they are now coming into the working world with those skills that they develop because of their own intrinsic motivation.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: I very often hear a kind of a debate in this domain between what should education do, what can media literacy do, but also what perhaps can regulation do, or what should the government do more. There are some questions coming in the Q&A also about what the government should be doing to foster a more safer environment, to support children online, indeed, families. I wonder if, thinking of the different parts of the world here represented, anyone might want to say something about particularly successful policies, successful government initiatives that maybe those in other countries could learn from or be stimulated by? So this is a question to anybody, really. But have you seen a successful government initiative whether it’s regulation or education or something else?
[Dr. Amanda Third]: I can jump in quickly, Sonia. I think, you know, there has been internationally a real shift in the environment in that there’s been a strong call for regulation. And I think there’s increasing pressure on governments, but also on platforms to really center children and their needs and priorities and their aspirations. And, you know, so I would point here to two key things. One is the evidence based and principled guidance that’s been developed by a team led by Sonia herself and the Five Rights Foundation, which is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child General Comment 25. And that is, of course, a piece of legislation, sorry, a piece of guidance that is designed to support states to understand their own responsibilities, to protect children, and to maximize their opportunities. And of course, not every country is a signatory to the convention. But I think the way that that piece of guidance has begun to be taken up has meant that we’re beginning to see some really positive changes. And the other example that I would point to very briefly is the kind of a dedicated commissioner or regulator who deals with child online protection and child empowerment in digital spaces. And in Australia, we’ve been very fortunate to have the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, which is a statutory body that is charged with making sure that Australians broadly, but children and young people in particular, are safe online. Also that they have the literacies and the sort of behind the scenes lobbying that will make sure that they can maximize all that the Internet has to offer. And, of course, several other countries now have followed suit with establishing those kinds of roles. And I think, though, when you do that, you give the issues profile at the governmental level that filters down into the society. You know, we begin to talk about these things because there’s a government body driving an agenda and so on. So I think those are a couple of things that I think are worth exploring further.
[David Kleeman]: What excites me about the age appropriate design code is right there in the name: age appropriate. I think so often regulation begins from “thou shalt not” and ignores the audience and their needs, their developmental abilities. Child development doesn’t change, the context changes. And so if you start from the core of children’s development over the different ages, then I think you’re on a much better path for building something that is safe, privacy protecting, and engaging.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: If anyone else has a brilliant suggestion or initiative from their country, this is the moment to wave at me. Manisha, please.
[Dr. Manisha Shelat]: Yeah. I just want to acknowledge that this whole attempt to get cheaper access and more and more access to more and more people in India, I think that is a very welcomed step. Now it has to be supported by the right kind of media literacy in general because we already have a lot of work going on in digital skills. But there are other aspects that I think would be really a great combination.
[Dr. Amanda Third]: Yeah. And I think also safety by design initiatives, where we were insisting that technology’s breaking safety features into the products is very, very important. And I also think youth led initiatives are really critical. So, in one example, I would point to is Project Rockit, who’ve been working with children and young people over a long period of time as young people themselves to develop content that is then taken into schools that really sort of resonates with children in the age groups they’re targeting. Those perspectives are really super important. And I don’t often think we give children enough credit and responsibility for doing creative things to support others on.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: We began this conversation thinking about the risks that children face. And I think we’ve moved beautifully into a recognition also that there are creative opportunities and participatory opportunities and much for children to learn through their digital engagement. But I see a number of questions coming in on a different kind of risk. And I wonder, I might ask Patricio to just say something, which is about commercial risks, the volume of datafication, it’s sometimes called, or advertising. And I know when we were working, Amanda and I, with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, it was very often colleagues in Latin America who were very concerned about the volume of advertising and marketing that comes to children. I don’t know if that comes into your research, or if you would like to comment on whether it is a distinctive feature of the continent if that’s not too crazy.
[Dr. Patricio Cabello]: It hasn’t come to my line of work. But for example, our partners from Brazil, they have a very interesting model about that because there is a big concern about advertising and digital media for children here. Here in Chile and most Latin American countries that is absolutely out of regulation, we don’t have any laws that are actually concerned about this. And I haven’t addressed this especially, but if we follow what we know from old research about other media and advertising, of course we are concerned about. Especially in those things that are not only advertising things, related to consumption, to buying things, but also those things that are also related to some lifestyles, for example. Of influence and something like that. That is, of course, something that’s a big concern and I think we haven’t addressed that properly yet here and in our research and we hope to do that in the future.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: I would say the same here, too. I mean, I’m sitting in London at the moment and I can see lots of parental anxieties about influencers, but the research sometimes doesn’t catch up with the phenomena. Calbe, what would you say in the Kenyan context? Is their children overwhelmed also with advertising and marketing? Or, perhaps not?
[Caleb Ndaka]: Yes. I wanted to add on a trend which is almost coming to become a norm in Kenya. And it’s a trend about children’s celebs, or celebrities wanting to make their children to be part of their costs and being able to make money out of that. It has been contested. I know a couple of parents have asked me if it’s right. And, of course, some are saying it’s right because the kids are beginning to make money, make a career. But some parents are also concerned about when they grow up, will they be proud of what they did? What about if they do mistake? Do they have a safe space or spirit of resilience to be able to overcome that phase of their lives? So, children celebs is a growing trend, or celebrities giving their kids for commercial purposes. But there’s little research, especially coming from Kenya or Africa, to show any evidence or any impact of that.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: Those of us who are researchers here have always got our job cut out. So, to have those who are educators and governments, tech companies, and also of course parents. I’ve got my eye on the clock and I can see that we need to wind up very soon. So I’m going to bring this really very wonderful conversation back to parents. And I just want to kind of acknowledge some of the other questions that are coming in from the audience, which are about really what can parents, whether it’s about celebrities or whether it’s about keeping children in kind of safer, child only places online. Or there was a question about “sharenting.” There are questions about the kind of data that is taken from children. You know, I can see that there are lots of really very, very live questions. And I’m going to ask each of you now in one sentence to do the impossible and just offer one takeaway to parents about one thing that they can do or one thing that they’ve learned. Because we hear so much of being overwhelmed of hopelessness. So is there something that you would like to make parents feel more that they can make something better for their child tomorrow growing up in this digital age? And well, I will start with Amanda. One sentence.
[Dr. Amanda Third]: I would say that the research that we have done with children shows that they want, more than anything else, to be trusted by their parents so that they can come to their parents when they have difficulties, know that their devices won’t be taken away from them, and find a sympathetic ear who will help them find the support they need.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: Perfect. Yes, I completely agree. I think I’m going to agree with you all. We’ll see. David?
[David Kleeman]: Co-play and co-viewing on every medium from the good old television through to the metaverse, emerging metaverse platforms, and Minecraft. Sit down and play along with your child. Find out what the attractions are for them.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: Right. Because very often fear and anxiety is bred in conditions of ignorance and just not, or just being unaware really. And so that makes us anxious. So, yes, get to know. Caleb?
[Caleb Ndaka]: I would say. Yes. I would say look for a local community where you can share your experiences and also you can learn from other parents. And let’s make this global village responsible and accessible to raise our kids.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone] Lovely. Exactly. Parents are not alone and. Yes, find those who can work with you. Yes. Patricio?
[Dr. Patricio Cabello]: Something that I think is very close to what Amanda and David said. For parents, I think the message for me is like, you don’t need to be a computer expert to mediate content for your children. It’s a matter of being there, being with them, to talk with them, to be more active, and to get more involved, instead of only applying restrictions and norms. That has proven to be not as effective as we think sometimes.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: Exactly. Manisha?
[Dr. Manisha Shelat]: Yeah, I would say they’d co-create the rules in an atmosphere of trust, and there are wonderful resources out there for parents. So just look for them. Make your community and use them.
[Dr. Sonia Livingstone]: Mm hmm. Very, very nice. I hope that is encouraging and empowering. I think, actually, there is a common thread to what you all said. Which is, listen to children because they can teach us a lot, as we have said in various ways throughout our discussion. And often they are surprising and we learn through surprises. So let’s see also what they have to say. And I think increasingly they actually appreciate parents’ dilemmas. They have some sympathy for the difficult tasks that adults face too. So I’m going to pass back to Kris for thanks. Though, I do want to say thank you to everybody here and for all the many brilliant questions that have come in. But let me hand back to Kris before the hour is up.
[Kris Perry]: Thank you, Sonia, Amanda, Caleb, David, Manisha and Patricio for this vibrant and enlightening discussion and all of the work you’re doing around the world to support children and families. I want to thank all of you in our Zoom audience for joining us today. To learn more about this and other topics related to child development and digital media, check out our website at www.childrenandscreens.com, follow us on these platforms and, subscribe to our YouTube channel where you can find all of our previous webinars covering some of the topics touched on today, including the digital divide, advertising to children, media literacy and parenting children at different ages and developmental stages. We hope you will join us again when our Ask the Experts series resumes in February 2023. Keep an eye out for registration. Until then, all of us at children’s screens would like to wish you and your families a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year. We hope you find joy and rest throughout the season. Thanks and be well.