David McGillivray

Professor, interested in events, culture, digital participation & sport.


The affordances of digital technologies in children’s lives

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a really interesting seminar titled, Children and Digital Technology, one of three events being hosted by the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (CRFR) Digital Families across the Lifecourse. How technology mediates relationships within families and impacts on experiences of childhood (and what that now means) was the focus of the day’s discussions. We had presentations from Dr Joanne Westwood on the state of play for digital technologies and their social implications; from Prof Christine Stephen of University of Stirling on Digital Childhood and early years and from Dr Natalia Kucirkova of the Open University on Digital Childhood: Myths and Realities.  There was also a healthy turnout from local authorities, government and third sector organisations impacted by the digital ‘turn’, including respectme, Parenting across Scotland and the Wheatley Group amongst others.

Some thoughts I took away from the event about the impact of digital technology on the experiences of young people, at home and in educational settings:

  1. We don’t know as much as we ‘think’ we know. In other words, there are lots of myths and moral panics out there, especially around the ‘risks’ associated with children and young people being online for ‘excessive’ amounts of time.
  2. Codes of conduct, regulatory frameworks and rules exist within and across online communities but they’re not always explicit. However, these more implicit codes are understood and followed by confident users of these platforms (and misunderstood by digital visitors!).
  3. Yet, there remain a lot of young people who are not as digitally literate as we might presume, meaning that there is an even greater need for issues pertaining to privacy, ownership, rights, the provenance of knowledge online etc that needs to become more effectively part of the educational arena.
  4. Crucially, for point 3, there needs to be a focus on the ‘affordances’ of digital technologies with an emphasis on , pedagogy, practice and literacies as opposed to ‘technology’ as and in itself. To emphasise the functionality of particular technologies is to miss their associated cultural practices.
  5. We need to know more about what people are doing when they inhabit digital spaces and not just how long they’re spending there. Quantifying use is important (see the recent children’s media use stats from Ofcom) but only tells us part of the story. As researchers (and practitioners) we need to know more about what people are doing in digital space, who is doing it (and who is absent) and how these practices might impact on our understandings of whether participating in digital cultures is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing.
  6. Relatedly, we need to know more about whether participation and production in the ‘creation’ of digital artefacts is part of positive learning experiences, for children and young people and, if so, how are these more active digital making experiences being facilitated in the home, at school and beyond?

There were many other takeaways from the session and I’d recommend you try to get along to the follow up seminars in February and later in 2016. there’s so much to unpack in this digital space, as a parent, teacher or researcher. I’ll leave you with a provocation from Christine Stephen:

absence of a screen is now becoming a barrier to learning



David McGillivray • November 20, 2015

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