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  • Challenges for 21st Century Children

The 21st century has brought with it a number of challenges for children. On the one hand, they are growing up in a world that is more safe and healthy than ever before. On the other hand, they are facing new stresses and challenges that previous generations did not have to deal with.  According to the OECD, child obesity is increasing bringing with it a host of potential physical, social and psychological challenges. How can we begin to prepare our learners for these very challenges?

What is the nature of childhood today?

Childhood (which extends to the age of 18 years) is seen as the polar opposite of adulthood – children are regarded as innocent, fragile, and dependent people in need of adult protection from a variety of possible dangers such as bad parenting, neglect, or exploitation.

In this regard, they’re still very much ‘learning’, developing their own opinions and understanding of themselves and the world around them.

One thing to consider is that childhood is associated with certain rights, like the right to ‘happiness’, to be ‘safe’, to be healthy, and to enjoy their childhood.

It’s easy to think that our children now have better opportunities to be happy, safe and healthy. But does it come at a price?

What does ‘happiness’ look like?

With the rise of entertainment such as games, technology and the online ‘meta-verse’, our children have more to enjoy than ever before. From my own experience, i know how much my learners valued their time gaming and interacting with their online friends. But how does this effect their social and emotional well-being?

 

A study from Stanford University on how technology affecting happiness and emotional development found:

“The online habits of girls ages 8 to 12, is that those who say they spend considerable amounts of time using multimedia describe themselves in ways that suggest they are less happy and less socially comfortable than peers who say they spend less time on screens.”

 

A study by the OECD found that children who spend more time gaming are more likely to be happy. But is there a catch? And will they end up having poorer mental health?

As teachers and parents it’s incredibly hard to judge or decide. Teaching in a complex needs school highlighted to me just how valuable the online world is for people with additional needs. For some of my learners, it was a gateway into socialising that may never have been available to them before.

However, online safety is a huge issue for parents and teachers all over the world.

What does safety look like in an online world?

Not only are youth using the Internet more, they are doing so at younger ages (Hooft -Graafl and, 2018). Some research suggests that preschoolers become familiar with digital devices before they are exposed to books (Hopkins, Brookes and Green, 2013).

However, there still isn’t enough research to support evidence-based guidelines on optimal amounts of screen use or online activities (Gott schalk, 2019); and there isn’t sufficient evidence of screen-based activities causing mental health problems, although some associations between screen-based activities and anxiety or depression have been found (OECD, 2018, Orben and Przybylski, 2019).

So how can we prepare children for life in the 21st century?

21st century children are growing up in a world that is vastly different from the one their parents or grandparents grew up in. They are exposed to a multitude of challenges that previous generations didn’t have to face.

We need to think about the 21st century child and what their needs are. They need to be able to understand and use digital technologies, but they also need to be able to regulate their emotions, cope with stress, and have a sense of belonging.

This can be done by:

Providing opportunities for children to be with others and build relationships

Supporting their emotional needs

Helping them develop a sense of self-efficacy

Encouraging them to be curious and creative

Having discussions around what they’re seeing or doing online

 

We’re all still learning and trying to get to grips with this 21st century world and the challenges it poses.

What other challenges do you think 21st century children face? Share your thoughts in the comments below.