Along with its Nordic neighbours, Denmark is one of the most digitalised countries in Europe, according to DESI (The Digital Economy and Society Index) – as tracked by the European Commission – and Danish children have a record high use and consumption of digital media compared to other European countries (WHO, 2016).
Perhaps consequently, the public debate on screen time and the effects of digital technologies on children is ongoing and contentious. While abovementioned figures indicate that screens and digital media are a major part of childhoods in Denmark and that access to digital media and ICTs is widespread, new reports point to potential underlying inequalities in children’s use of digital technology.
Earlier this year, the Danish NGO Børns Vilkår published four reports on Danish children’s experiences and engagement with digital media. One report focused on children of 5-6 years old, based on interviews as well as surveys with kids, parents and kindergarten teachers. 96% of the children in the survey knew how to use a smartphone or a tablet which emphasises that Danish children have access to digital technologies from an early age (Alim et al, 2019).
We tend to think of screen time as a sedentary activity, but with mobile devices and tablets, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. With this in mind, the report sheds light on different ways that Danish children use tablets, such as e.g. taking pictures, filming, controlling robots and watching videos – mainly to show that ‘screen time’ can sometimes be a misleading and generic term that doesn’t pay attention to the different activities and forms of play that digital technologies enable. I do find this approach to media use interesting as it allows for a more nuanced understanding of how children – and adults – experience digital technologies, rather than the moral panic over screen time that is sometimes evident in these debates.
Anyway, I wasn’t meant to talk about adults panicking over kids staring at a screen. Back to the report!
When looking at screen use as containing multiple activities, some interesting disparities emerge. For example, the data shows that more boys than girls experiment with digital technologies in multiple ways (measured as to whether they use devices in at least four different ways), and girls are more likely to watch videos on their tablets while boys are more likely to use the tablet to control robots (Alim et al, 2019). Slightly sad and predictable…
Further, the report looks at the effect of parental involvement in children’s screen use and parents who see themselves as ‘digitally competent’ enable their children to engage with devices in more varied, creative and active ways, rather than as a small TV screen. Perhaps more surprisingly, the parents who are confident using digital technologies themselves also tend to be more strict when it comes to laying down rules for screen time in the family and facilitate their children’s media use. In this way, digital know-how and media habits are being passed on from parents to their children from a very young age, and the report concludes that not all Danish children have equal opportunities to develop digital skills (Alim et al, 2019).
However, the notion of ‘digital dannelse’ is a hot topic in Denmark at the moment – ‘dannelse’ here roughly relates to education, but also encompasses more philosophical and cultural aspects of digital life – and schools and kindergartens are now paying more attention to how they can ensure that kids grow up with a technical as well as ethical digital compass (Bundsgaard, 2017; Mehlsen & Hendricks, 2018).
A great (and adorable) example of this – although from Norway and not Denmark – is the video below on consent in relation to taking and sharing pictures of others. The video is called “YOU’RE the one who decides” and features a bunch of Norwegian kids singing and asking permission to take pictures of each other. Seriously, watch it, it’s really catchy.
Alim, W., Nebelong, S., Møller Kjeldsen, C., Bindslev With, M., Kristensen Fahnøe, P. M. & Johansen, S. 2019. Børnehavebørns hverdag med digitale medier: Digital Dannelse i Børnehøjde, del 1. Børns Vilkår.
Bundsgaard, J. 2017. Digital Dannelse. Aarhus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag.
Johansen, S. L. 2014. Børns liv og leg med medier. 1. udgave, 1. oplag ed., Pædagogik og læring. Frederikshavn: Dafolo.
Mehlsen, C. & Hendricks, V. 2018. Hvordan bliver vi digitalt dannede? København: Informations Forlag.
World Health Organization (2016). Growing up unequal: gender and socioeconomic differences in young people’s health and well-being.