An international research project from UNICEF, the LEGO Group and child development experts will develop tools to empower businesses and policymakers to protect and promote children’s well-being in a digital age
UNICEF and the Lego Group have joined forces to form the Responsible Innovation in Technology for Children (RITEC) project, funded by the LEGO Foundation, to explore how businesses and policymakers can create a digital world that prioritises the well-being of children.
ln a landmark study launching today as part of the project, new research from UNICEF and Western Sydney University explores the question: what does well-being mean to children in a digital age? The report prioritises the voices of children, having been developed through workshops with over 300 children from 13 countries along with analysis of existing survey data from 34,000 children aged 9-17 across 30 countries.
The online world is an area in which children’s needs and voices have historically been absent, despite the increasing presence of technology in children’s formative years – from how they play and learn, access information, build friendships and more. As digital technology plays an increasingly important role in children’s development, the project aims to create practical tools for businesses and governments that will empower them to put the well-being of children at the centre of digital design.
Contained within the report is the project’s newly developed well-being framework for children. Made up of eight child-centric well-being outcomes, the framework is a first step towards helping tech developers and policymakers develop a common understanding of how digital experiences can positively influence aspects of child well-being. This can then be used to inform the design of digital products and services used by children, as well as the laws that govern them.
The research findings and framework are being made immediately available to governments and regulators – many of which are grappling with the challenge of regulating digital technology so that it works for the betterment of society, particularly the most vulnerable groups within it, including children. The report microsite with download to full report is live on: www.unicef-irc.org/ritec
The next phase of the project will see research teams from New York University, The City University of New York, the University of Sheffield and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child apply multiple research methods to understand how different digital play experiences impact children’s well-being outcomes. From this, the project aims to provide businesses with access to evidence-based tools that will enable design choices more likely to promote the well-being of children. Over time, this is expected to create a more child-centric and sustainable model of digital innovation for the future.
Commenting on the launch of the report, Fayaz King, Deputy Executive Director of Field Results and Innovation, UNICEF, said: “Digital play experiences help children de-stress, problem solve, build confidence, resilience and a sense of belonging, provided that we properly balance its opportunities against risk of harm. Working together with the LEGO Group – and directly with children themselves – we spotlight tools and opportunities for industry and policymakers that raise the bar on how digital innovation can put the rights and well-being of children first.”
Anna Rafferty, Vice President of Digital Consumer Engagement, the LEGO Group, added: “We believe that digital play holds tremendous potential to enrich children’s lives, but we also recognise the risks that technology creates. And so, we feel a deep responsibility to deliver a digital environment that creates the best possible outcomes for children. We do this by anchoring the well-being of children in how we design our play experiences and, through this exciting collaboration, we will strengthen our leadership in this space while also supporting other companies who are looking to put children’s wellbeing first.”
Professor Amanda Third, co-author of the report and Professorial Research Fellow and Co-Director Young and Resilient Research Centre, Western Sydney University, said: “What this report and the children involved in our workshops revealed is a need to take children’s well-being seriously. It’s all too easy for us to constantly focus on safety and risk, but we can also maximise the benefits children gain from technology. It’s about the overall quality of children’s digital experience. They are asking adults to think about it and they deserve to have us listen.”
Children’s well-being is not only the absence of harm; it is the presence of the things they need to flourish
Safety and inclusion, children told researchers, were important foundational priorities for enabling their well-being, but researchers also identified a number of well-being outcomes that are central to enabling children to flourish in a digital era. These are not defined through the absence of harm but by the presence of positive states that contribute to children’s sense of wellness.
The workshops uncovered the huge levels of pleasure, joy and fulfilment that technology and, in particular, digital play bring to children.
“[Playing online] makes me happy.” (Tanzania)
“[The game we designed] can provide a sense of escapism… [so] if you’re going through a hard time, you can just go and play a game and take your mind off of things and be in that game.” (United Kingdom)
“We enjoy meeting new friends online, especially when they play well.” (Jordan)
Beyond the framework itself, the researchers also concluded that more participatory research with children should be undertaken to assess, on an ongoing basis, how digital experiences impact upon children’s well-being. By putting children’s insights at the heart of digital design, society can harness the power of digital innovation to better serve the needs and interests of children.
A framework for child well-being in a digital age
The framework illustrates key outcomes and indicators that children told researchers are important for digital play experiences. These outcomes and indicators are design objectives that that evidence suggests a digital play experience – if designed with the goal to promote well-being – should aspire to impact upon.
COMPETENT: The child has an increased ability to answer questions, complete an activity or learn new knowledge. The child also perceives increased competence in cognitive, social and general self-worth domains.
CREATIVE: The child has an increased sense of curiosity, openness to experiences and creative ability.
EMOTIONALLY REGULATED: The child reports reduced sense of stress and feels re-energised to engage with peers and the world.
SELF-ACTUALISED: The child has an increased sense of self-actualisation, self-worth and purpose.
SAFE & SECURE: The child is objectively safe while engaging and has a sense of safety and security.
DIGITALLY INCLUDED: The child feels the experience is technically accessible (pricing, internet, design) and that the experience is diverse, equitable and inclusive.
EMPOWERED: The child has an increased sense of autonomy, choice and agency, attaining a feeling of mastery and achievement.
SOCIALLY CONNECTED: The child has an increased sense of connection or belonging with others, including parents.