Nearly one in eight children in the UK say their online life harms their school work according to a survey by The Children’s Society.
The survey is among the evidence considered in the national charity’s new report, Net Gains? Young People’s Digital Lives and Well-Being.
It found 13% of young people aged 10-17 said their life online had a ‘mostly negative’ impact on their school work, including homework, while 37% said it had a ‘mixed impact’ with both positive and negatives. In contrast, 35% reported a ‘mostly positive’ impact, while 16% said there was ‘no impact’.
Around one in 11 children (9%) reported that time online had a ‘mostly negative’ effect on family relationships, with 35% reporting a mixed impact, 35% a positive impact and 21% no impact.
Overall, children reported both pros and cons to time spent online.
Almost half (46%) said that the impact of being online was mostly positive for their relationships with friends and more than four in ten (42%) said the same for the impact on how they felt overall.
Nearly 4 in 10 (39%) children reported that being online had a mixed impact on how they felt about themselves (36% reported a ‘mostly positive impact, 7% a ‘mostly negative impact’, and 18% no impact) and a similar proportion (38%) said the same about how they felt overall.
The Children’s Society’s report says that building a better understanding of how young people use technology and the effects this has on them is essential for improving the quality and safety of young people’s digital lives and for boosting digital equality – including not only the ability to access online content but also digital skills and the ability to appraise it.
Young people were also asked to score out of 10 how happy they were with different aspects of their digital lives. They were most happy with things they did online, scoring on average 8 out of 10, and least happy with how they came across to others online and the amount of time they spent online, both scoring an average of 7.4.
The Children’s Society says some children’s views about how they appear to others online could reflect unhappiness with their appearance or uncertainty over what they should say or how they should behave. It says unhappiness about the amount of time spent online could stem from concerns children have heard in media debates or restrictions their parents have imposed on them.
The report also reviews international research on young people’s use of digital technology, the effects of time spent online and the influence of parents on how they use the internet. The Children’s Society found that evidence of the impact of the digital world upon children has many flaws, often failing to account for the sheer number of things young people do online, consider the impact of things going on in their lives ‘offline’ or include young people’s views.
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.
“Learning more about this can help us to not only make sure that all young people have the same opportunities and benefits online and feel safe and happy when using digital technology, but also to support better well-being in general.”