Gasser acknowledges that even after 25 years, disparities remain in the well-being of children and youth: their ability to exercise their rights, and in their online access and network literacy. These disparities place our children at risk, as well as the health and well-being of our society overall.
When we consider Internet risks, we usually think of cyberbullies, breaches of privacy, and sexual predators. Last month I read a report on the prevalence, research findings and future research needs for youth online. The findings held no surprises, but the authors' recommendations for future research highlighted the need to utilize youth interviews and observations, and address the culture of digital media use given the ubiquitous presence of mobile devices.
Their recommendations reflect the heart of Gasser's concerns. Youth use digital media to access information and education, to connect with their family, friends and community, and for self-expression. Many would argue that digital media are essential to these functions. And the more mobile our media are, the more they can and are integrated into our daily lives. So when conditions limit youth access to digital media, they are less able to learn, to meet their own needs, and to participate in society. They lose the ability to develop their potential, and to fully exercise their rights.
Society loses as well. We lose access to their ideas and innovations. We lose access to their concerns and solutions. We lose access to their art and entertainment. We lose the involvement and visibility of an essential segment of our society.
Gasser encourages us to consider the reciprocity between the rights of the child and the access to Internet: that each supports the other. And that youth are an essential part of the conversation as we address the inequities and gaps in their implementation, and the impact they have on society.
I'd encourage us to go even further - to consider the children of tomorrow. How will the world wide web - or whatever tool replaces it - facilitate the participation, learning and creativity of tomorrow's youth in a global society? Given the pace of change, it's not too early to start thinking about that.
So let's don't think too small, too confining. Let's give youth voice, and not forget to include strong advocacy for our future generations. We need our young people to grow up healthy and happy, skilled and creative, so they can address the complex issues of today's society and planet. Let's make it our responsibility to ensure that they have the rights and the means to succeed!
-- Trudy Dunham, research fellow
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