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What are the impacts of tech immersion on today’s children? QUT wants to find out

SOURCE: vinnstock / Shutterstock
“No other centre considers the digital child from birth. Our vision is to ensure children growing up in the digital age are healthy, educated and connected.”

For kids born these days, the presence of and reliance on digital technology is not a novelty, it is simply their life.

They are the first generation born into a world where digital is king and every aspect of our lives is touched by tech. The day-to-day tasks that make up the life of a child – playing, socialising, learning – have all changed drastically in just a few short years, all can now be done through a screen.

While older people may still feel the ways technology has changed the way they do things, for children, digital technology is taken for granted. It’s accepted as just the way things are and have always been.

This pervasive use of technology comes with undeniable benefits. But understanding the full effects – both positive and negative – that this level of tech immersion has on a child is less clear.

To learn more, the Australian government has pledged AU$35 million to set up the first research centre dedicated to the topic.

digital technology children
The Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child will be based at the Queensland University of Technology. Source: EQRoy / Shutterstock

The Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child will be based at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and will focus on documenting what life is like when born into the digital age.

“No other centre considers the digital child from birth. Our vision is to ensure children growing up in the digital age are healthy, educated and connected,” said Professor Danby, from QUT’s Faculty of Education.

“The centre will provide evidence-based research around not only the risks but also the many opportunities and innovations provided by digital technologies that can benefit children and their futures.”

Danby explains that these days a child’s digital footprint starts even before their birth, through medical records and parents’ online presence. This then continues in early life, with toys hooked up to the internet and activities and preferences tracked by corporations from babyhood. Understanding this powerful tool and providing guidance to parents is a core principle of the research teams.

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“The research will involve government and non-government agencies, industry here and overseas, policy-makers, philanthropic groups, as well as children and their parents,” Danby said.

“There are conflicting national guidelines and advice about many digital technology issues and the centre aims to provide authoritative information to guide families, educators, governments and other authorities.”

The centre will bring together experts across a whole range of disciplines to gather a well-rounded understanding of the issues. It will include experts from education, health, digital, and social, and provide health and education policy recommendations and guidelines. In total, the project will involve 33 academic and industry partner organisations from Australia, Europe, Asia, and the United States.

digital technology children
These days a child’s digital footprint starts before their birth through medical records and their parents’ online presence. Source: Steve Heap / Shutterstock

The three key research areas the centre will focus on are:

  • Health – balancing risks of using digital technology against benefits, such as access to knowledge, social interaction, sleep and physical activity, relaxation and entertainment.
  • Education – using digital technologies to optimise learning and develop engaging and thought-provoking new technologies.
  • Connectedness – balancing social and knowledge connections in the digital world against risks of surveillance, infringements of privacy and children’s rights.

“Our children are growing up with unprecedented access to technology and we need to better understand the effect it is having on them,” Australia’s Minister for Education Dan Tehan said at the announcement on Sunday, as reported by ZDNet.

“This new centre will undertake a family cohort study, run children’s technology laboratories, and lead research programs to improve our knowledge of the effects of digital technology on children.”