Are young people digital natives?

Young digital natives using technology

Written by Sally Dyson, Head of Digital Participation at SCVO

SCVO Digital Team have been announced as a finalist in the DL100 Digital Team of the Year category 2018. SCVO’s role is Championing Scotland’s vibrant charities, voluntary organisations & social enterprises. It’s digital team (established in 2013) helps people and charities to develop their digital potential.

Did you feel misunderstood as a young person?

I certainly did!

Didn’t it feel frustrating and isolating?

Did you vow that you’d never lose touch with where young people are actually at?

Have you lost touch?  Are we at risk of perpetuating that misunderstanding and misconception?

I think we are, particularly where digital skills and inclusion are concerned. It’s very easy to be swept up in the opinion that if our children aren’t born with a digital device strapped to them they are definitely swiping and racking up screen time on the same timescale as becoming a toddler.

Okay, maybe there’s a slight exaggeration in there, but so often we talk about young people and their ‘tech savviness’. It’s often said that they are ‘digital natives’ and experts in using new technology.

So, what’s the real picture? Findings published from the Carnegie UK Trust’s #notwithoutme digital inclusion programme for vulnerable young people, gives us the following headlines:

  • Not all young people have basic digital skills; the term ‘digital native’ is misleading at best.
  • Inaccurate assumptions and presumptions around young people’s digital skills can be held by everyone, including young people themselves. High levels of competence in some digital skills may mask low levels of ‘purposeful’ digital skills; those needed to be safe and productive online.
  • Young people should be involved in shaping their own digital skills development projects; co-design, peer education and creative delivery methods help to ensure learning is relevant and engaging.
  • Opportunities to learn basic digital skills should be embedded into existing long-term skills development programmes in formal and informal education settings.

These findings resonate with our own recent report on tackling digital exclusion in Scotland.

Simply having access to the internet is no guarantee that people can use it to its full potential. Confident digital consumers do not necessarily have the range of skills to be able to fully benefit from the internet. We know that 21% of adults in Scotland still do not have basic digital skills.

Those most in need of support from public services – including those on low incomes, with disabilities and older people – are amongst the least likely to be able to access information and opportunities online or have the digital skills to apply for jobs. The #notwithoutme project also highlights this is also the case for some young people.

We know having access to the right devices and having an affordable internet connection are key enablers of digital inclusion. While the proliferation of smartphones continue, it is important to recognise they are not a ‘silver bullet’ to tackle digital exclusion. If you only had access to a smartphone and free public WiFi, how easy do you think it would be to complete a job application?

We also know access to support is least available where it’s needed most, and is more likely to be taken up by those who are already more proficient. Approaches to addressing digital exclusion must be embedded in a broader approach to tackling social exclusion. We cannot expect people to turn up at training courses – we must take support to where people are already.

We would encourage organisations across the public, private and third sectors to consider what they can do to:

  • Build people’s confidence and motivation to go online;
  • Make devices and the internet accessible and affordable; and
  • Encourage the development of the full range of basic digital skills.


Digital Teams 2018

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