Children’s Rights in the Digital Environment

To mark #InternetSafetyDay 2023, Frances Lingard shares their reflections on working with children’s rights in the digital environment through a series of short blogs.

Children in Scotland are growing up with the influence of digital environments in many parts of their lives. The term digital environment means more than just the internet, it encompasses apps, mobile networks, social media, ‘big data’, gaming, Artificial Intelligence, … the list is endless. On Internet Safety Day, I am discussing children’s rights in the context of the digital environment: what this means for the children we work with and how we are exploring it at Children’s Parliament.

I work across projects at Children’s Parliament and have seen the mutual points of children’s interests and concerns around their rights within the digital environment. When I started at Children’s Parliament, I got to meet the ‘Screen Savers’, a group of MCP’s on the ‘Mind Yer Time’ project passionate about social media, screen time and the positive impact it can have on all our lives. Collaborating with Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP), they identified the positive and negative impacts that screens and social media can have on children and young people. They used the 5rights framework to discuss their digital rights from the 5Rights Youth Commission’s Final Report to the Scottish Government in May 2017. These were:

  • Your Right to Remove – This allows children to ask for anything they have posted online to be deleted.
  • Your Right to Know – This allows children to know who holds their data and might make money from any information they have given online.
  • Your Right to Safety and Support- This helps children to know who to go to if they need help, and to be protected from anything illegal.
  • Your Right to Informed and Conscious Use- This helps children control how they use technology, and how often they use it.
  • Your Right to Digital Literacy- This allows children to have the chance to learn how to use technology effectively.

The Mind Yer Time project effectively links children’s lives ‘online’ to their lives ‘offline’, through a thematic approach that joins mental and physical wellbeing with the way children inhabit digital environments. Through the many resources on Mind Yer Time, mental well-being stands out as a key theme. The children discuss the complex nature of mental health when using digital technology through the constant connectedness it provides. Resources such as ‘How social media can affect your mental health’ and ‘Improving your mental health with social media’ present positive and negative impacts of social media and how to support mental wellbeing when using technology.

Connecting technology to what makes children happy, healthy and safe has been important in both projects I am working on at Children’s Parliament: most notably the Artificial Intelligence work, but also a key theme in the Dignity in School programme.

Due to the rapidly changing nature of the digital environment, the themes raised in recent projects additionally address questions of fairness, accessibility and use-value of digital technology; an ethical approach to the digital environment. The Digital Strategy for Scotland, A Changing Nation: How Scotland Will Thrive in a Digital World (2021) sets out the vision for an ethical digital approach, ‘A place where children and vulnerable people are protected from harm. Where digital technologies adopt the principles of privacy, resilience and harm reduction by design and are inclusive, fair, and useful.’

I often think conversations around the digital environment can get de-materialised and hence de-personalised, often through language. By this I refer the language that can be exclusionary and mis-leading; even the phrase ‘Artificial Intelligence’ is suggestive of an intelligence separate from human intervention, which then can shift the meaning away from the systems and datasets designed by humans, and the decisions implicit in that process.

A rights-based approach allows children to identify where their safety might be being upheld or at risk within digital environments. This is by joining their online and offline lives together and making direct links to their lived experience. To develop a safe approach to the digital environment, we must all, children and adults, ask ourselves questions about the information we are sharing and the tools we use to share it.

To find out more about Mind Yer Time, visit
Our ScreenSavers also released a short pre-recorded webinar to share their key takeaways here:

Date: 25th May 2023
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