Engagement in the online world has risen significantly in the last few years. Experts are now predicting that, within the next ten years, 90% of the population will be connected to the internet, and a large portion of this population is children. Connection to digital devices can have implications for children’s health and wellbeing, with data suggesting the age of engagement in the online world is increasingly getting younger and time spent on devices is increasing. Factors such as time spent online, type of digital content consumed and who children meet online all influence children’s overall development.

Given this, it is important that educators, families and health and community professionals support children to develop skills which will assist in their safe online use. IT and digital media competence are important skills for children to develop, especially as we are now living in a world where these skills are needed in the workplace. A recent article in the World Economic Forum suggests that for children to have a safe and positive experience of digital media they need to develop digital intelligence (IQ).

Eight key skills have been identified as making up a child’s digital IQ, with the development of these skills being supported through explicit teachings.  

The following have been identified as core skills children need to develop digital IQ:

  • Digital citizen identity: the ability to build and manage a healthy identity online and offline with integrity
  • Screen time management: the ability to manage one’s screen time, multitasking, and one’s engagement in online games and social media with self-control
  • Cyberbullying management: the ability to detect situations of cyberbullying and handle them wisely
  • Cybersecurity management: the ability to protect one’s data by creating strong passwords and to manage various cyberattacks
  • Privacy management: the ability to handle with discretion all personal information shared online to protect one’s and others’ privacy 
  • Critical thinking: the ability to distinguish between true and false information, good and harmful content, and trustworthy and questionable contacts online
  • Digital footprints: the ability to understand the nature of digital footprints and their real-life consequences and to manage them responsibly
  • Digital empathy: the ability to show empathy towards one’s own and others’ needs and feelings online

Families, educators and professionals need to ensure they are 'cyber savvy' in order to best support children’s safe engagement with the online world. Currently there is a gap in the way children and adults use technology. Further gaps exist in governance and policies, highlighting the need for families, educators, services and government to stay up to date with changes in the way children are connecting with the online world.

Another important consideration is when a child should have their own device. This is a key area that health and community professionals can support families, teachers and educators with. In "How (and when) to introduce social media and mobiles to kids", psychologist Jocelyn Brewer states “It depends on a lot of different factors – for instance, whether their school has a bring-your-own-device-situation”.

Educating children on safe use can begin before they even have their own device, with adults communicating with children about appropriate online behaviour, and role-modelling the management of any potential issues that may arise. Supporting children to establish healthy digital habits early on has positive flow-on effects to their safe use of devices and engagement in the internet.

Brewer also suggests it’s important to talk to children about how they will use their device. Implementing boundaries and clear expectations supports children to engage in positive ways. Talking to children about their intentions for use as well as setting time limits is also important.

Finally Brewer says,“It’s about developmental appropriateness, and young people understanding the responsibility that comes with the platforms". Health and Community professionals can support families and educators with establishing children’s developmental readiness for owning a device and talk about ways to support children once they own a device.