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Digital poverty affects the young as well as the old

Digital poverty has less to do with not being able to afford the latest games console, and everything to do with providing people with the tools to enjoy the benefits of the online world.

Here in a guest blog, Jonathan Rallings, Assistant Director for Policy at Barnardo’s, explains more

‘Digital poverty’ is a term to describe how far individuals and families are keeping pace with the growing role of the internet in our lives. This includes issues such as access to the internet, ability to use online apps and, increasingly, social exclusion.

At face value this would seem to be an issue primarily for the elderly – and to some extent that’s true. Latest ONS figures show that whilst 87.9% of adults used the internet in 2015, breakdowns show this contained a whopping 99.2% of 16-24 year olds, compared to just over a third of the over-75s.

So this is an issue that will work itself out over time, right?

Wrong. Barnardo’sis concerned about digital poverty on a number of levels.


Don’t assume young people must understand the internet simply because they’ve grown up with it

First, although the cost of accessing the internet is vastly cheaper than before – particularly in the age of smartphones – this still doesn’t mean that all families can automatically afford it.

This matters, particularly as more information and services, such as facilities for paying bills etc, or accessing customer services, pass onto websites with very minimal offline support.  This can even lead to higher costs – such as where discounts are offered for paying online.

But particularly important is that ‘using the internet’ is very different from being able to use it proficiently – just as reading a sign is something most people can do, but being able to tackleShakespeare takes more practice.

In our report Youth and the Internet, we warned policy makers to be careful in making casual assumptions that young people must understand the internet simply because they’ve grown up with it. Our experience from our services is that whilst most young people know how to use social media, some are not even confident enough to conduct a simple Google search to find out information for themselves. This is borne out by recent research showing that poorer children are less likely to use the internet for learning, but for games.


Help your child by sharing the experience of using the internet together

Most parents will sit with pre-schoolers using flash cards to help prepare them to read – but how many teach them basic principles of how to use the web?

This can be scary, as some parents will be concerned that their children – even very young children – already know more than them. But learning does not have to be one-way, and working together may become a richer experience for both parent and child as the innate inquisitiveness of the young is fused with wider knowledge of the world.

By sharing in the experience of using the internet together, you can help your child understand more fully how they can use the web to access any information they might need for homework, or just curiosity. But it can also provide a valuable opportunity to embed safety principles from an early age – such as setting up safe passwords, not giving out personal information on forums, and questioning whether someone, or something, is who or what they purport to be. It can even be useful in learning how to avoid clicking on pop-ups.

This is a sure-fire way to ensure that your kids do not suffer ‘digital poverty’ – without even spending a penny.

Image: Marcelo Graciolli, CC BY-2.0