The ongoing pandemic has pushed many young people to use technology more than ever before. Whether for education or communication with friends, being restricted from social gatherings has pushed much of the offline world online. This makes it prudent for families, organisiations, and young people themselves to assess the importance of technology in their lives. The Digital Youth Index serves as an important first step into what will hopefully be a fruitful set of investigations into optimal access and use for young people.
Perhaps the most important starting point for any future investigations is in regard to access to technology and the skills to utilize it. The Digital Youth Index (DYI) indicates that 80% of young people have access to either a desktop or laptop. This statistic is an important one and will need to be tracked over time as technology becomes ever more ubiquitous in young peoples’ lives, particularly in education. This may also warrant further investigation to receive details on who is lacking access. Young people in key stage 2 may require less access to a laptop than a year 12/13 for their education, so it would be useful for future investigations to break down access by age.
Access to a device itself is, of course, only half the battle. Without satisfactory skills, access to a device is ultimately unhelpful. The DYI demonstrates that young people are proficient in basic tasks such as using the internet to aid schoolwork or communicate with teachers via email. Given the past year of online learning, it is certainly valuable to look at online skills through the lens of education, and it’s promising to see that young people seemingly have the skills to cope with online education. It may be valuable for future investigations to be broader in their assessment of digital skills. For instance, a crucial online skill may be knowing how to report offensive content or how to recognize misinformation from an online news source. Future investigations may benefit from establishing a “basket of skills” which can be consistently assessed over time, and perhaps can be altered with time as skills such as coding and web development become more ubiquitous.
This becomes emphasized by the statistic that one third of 17-19 year-olds say the internet has a negative impact on their mental health. While the foundational subjects of access to technology and basic skills are crucial to understanding the online lives of young people, it is equally crucial to attend to the issues of how to interact with ever-present social media. While skills such as being able to create a document is important for online education, the ability to interact with people online is equally important for mental health. The past year has forced almost all social interaction into the online realm, and when 25% of the LGBTQ+ community avoid talking to people in person in favour of online interaction it is key for future investigations to assess healthy ways for young people to navigate online relationships.
Max is the Digital Lead at the youth organization, VoiceBox, managing the youth-sourced content platform, VoiceBox.site, which is used to host articles, artwork and run youth consultation.