In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Growing Up in the Digital Era

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Education and Learning in a Digital Era
  • Digital Play
  • Social Identity Development in a Digital Era
  • Cyberbullying, Screen Addiction, and Other Digital Era Challenges
  • Parenting in a Digital Era
  • Children’s and Adolescents’ Rights in a Digital Era
  • Children and Adolescents as Media Consumers and Producers in a Digital Age
  • Children and Adolescents as Digital Activists

Childhood Studies Growing Up in the Digital Era
Kate Eichhorn
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0268


Since the 1990s, scholars working in disciplines across the humanities, social sciences, law, information studies, and medicine have been investigating what it means to grow up in a digital era. Much of the earliest research published on children and youth in a digital era focused on the potential dangers of digital technologies and online life. Persistent themes included the Internet’s potential to put children and adolescents at risk of being prematurely exposed to pornography, sexual predators, extremist politics, and deviant subcultures. Yet, as American media studies scholar Henry Jenkins observed in an early article on growing up in a digital era published in Radical Teacher, “There has been no point in the twentieth century when childhood was not seen as under threat from one or manifestation of other of mass culture (comic strips, joke books, pulp fiction, radio, comic books, rock music, television, video games, etc.) (p. 33).” Jenkins didn’t simply argue that the moral panic about children’s access to the Internet may be woefully predictable but also suggested that young people’s access to emerging digital technologies and platforms was inevitable and would ultimately prove to be “central to their political participation” (p. 33). By the early 2000s, it was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore Jenkins’ position that there was no way or legitimate reason to stop children and adolescents from exploring the Internet and embracing new digital tools and platforms. As children, tweens, and teens came to dominate many online spaces, including most emerging social media platforms, earlier calls to censor the Internet for minors waned, new concerns and research questions arose, and a more nuanced perspective in growing up in a digital era began to emerge. Although some researchers continue to grapple with the dangers online networks pose to children and adolescents, in the 2020s, there is widespread recognition that digital technologies and platforms have transformed young people’s lives for the better. Indeed, much of the research on growing up in a digital era now focuses on how digital technologies and platforms have given rise to a generation of children and teen influencers, activists, media makers, and entrepreneurs who are using their unprecedented social, political, and even economic capital to reposition young people as critical power brokers in the world.

General Overviews

Most articles and books on growing up in a digital era focus on specific challenges, demographics, technologies, or platforms. Still, there are a few general overviews dating back to the 1990s. Although most of these overviews were published before 2010, even early publications, dated as they may appear, remain valuable research documents to the extent that they offer insight into how the challenges and potential benefits of growing up in a digital era were once framed. Among the general overviews of growing up in a digital era that remain particularly significant are those by a Canadian business analyst and writer in Tapscott 1997, a British social psychologist in Livingstone 2002 and Livingstone 2009, and a Japanese-American anthropologist in Ito, et al. 2008. Tapscott, Livingstone, and Ito were among the first researchers to publish or edit book-length studies on growing up in a digital era. Livingstone and Ito have both continued to focus on this subject over the course of their careers. In addition, a notable recent overview is the companion guide Green, et al. 2020.

  • Green, Lelia, Donell Holloway, Kylie Stevenson, Tama Leaver, and Leslie Haddon. The Routledge Companion to Digital Media and Children. New York: Routledge, 2020.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781351004107

    This companion guide includes essays on a wide range of topics related to growing up in a digital age, including essays on early childhood interactions with digital media, children’s digital play, and children’s rights in an online world.

  • Ito, Mizuko, Heather A. Horst, Matteo Bittanti, et al. Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008.

    Based on a three-year ethnographic study sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, this 2008 report was an ambitious attempt to track the impact of social networking sites, gaming, video-sharing platforms, and mobile devices on youth, and more specifically, explore how these new technologies were impacting children’s and adolescents’ communications, friendships, self-expressions, and experiences of play at the time.

  • Livingstone, Sonia. Young People and New Media: Childhood and the Changing Media Environment. London: SAGE, 2002.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781446219522

    Among the first book-length studies on growing up in a digital age, Livingston’s 2002 study on children and digital culture offered insight into the key challenges and possibilities presented by the new media landscape in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

  • Livingstone, Sonia. Children and the Internet. London: Polity Press, 2009.

    Building on earlier studies, Livingstone’s 2009 study on children and the Internet offered a critical assessment on some of the emerging challenges facing children and youth in a digital era and how to manage these challenges and risks without closing off access to the Internet’s emerging opportunities.

  • Tapscott, Don. Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997.

    In this early contribution to literature exploring the impact of digital technologies on children, business analyst Don Tapscott identified how young people were using digital technologies to quickly make inroads into all areas of society, including business.

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