Young and Online

Researching and clearly communicating digital experiences from the lens of safety and wellbeing for children and their evolving needs

During my time at UNICEF, I was inspired to explore nuances in digital experiences for children and young people. I undertook an independent reesarch to understand the same from the lens of safety and wellbeing; and also uncover the relevance and efficacy of parental control tools and resources with regard to the evolving needs of children. My goal was also to contribute to the work of Global Kids Online, an international initiative that aims to generate cross-national evidence around children’s use of the internet. 

The digital environment was conceived for adult users. Not even its inventors thought it might one day be a place where childhood would be spent. Nor did they make any design concessions for child users. On the contrary, the utopian vision was that all users would be equal. And if all users are equal, then a child user is treated as if they were an adult. Using technology cannot, in itself, be taken as evidence that the individual child is a creative participant in the digital environment with full digital literacy, agency and citizenship.

One in three internet users worldwide is a child, and young people are now the most connected of all age groups in human history. From photos posted online to medical records stored in the cloud, many children have a digital footprint before they can even walk or talk. As digital technology rapidly evolves, so can the risks children face online—from cyberbullying to misuse of their private information to online sexual abuse. While there is now a widely accepted imperative to protect children from harm and abuse online, there is limited understanding on how might we empower young people as active digital rights-holders so they become true global citizens.

I developed a research plan, and conducted deep ethnographic and design research over a period of five months. Some of the methods used during the process were surveys, intercept interviews and expert interviews, fly-on-the-wall observations, behavioral and user-journey mapping, shadowing and literature reviews. I created various maps to synthesize findings from the research and to map opportunity gaps and blind spots.



Online and offline ecosystems from the point of view of a young user.

Moments in fifteen year old Michael’s online life in the span of an afternoon after school.

Radar map visualizing how parents of school-going children prioritise aspects of the child’s wellbeing and development

Full report

Chhavi Jain 2020