A new report has found that children are ill-equipped for the lives they lead online, being left to fend for themselves and signing up to social media accounts where they don’t understand what they are agreeing to share.
The Growing Up Digital report calls for the creation of a new ‘digital ombudsman’ to look out for the rights of children online, as well as compulsory education in schools for children aged 4-14.
With the time children spend online continuing to increase – 3-4 year olds’ online use increased from 6 hours 48 minutes to 8 hours 18 minutes a week over the last year and 12-15 year olds spend over 20 hours a week online – Growing Up Digital looked at how to equip children with the knowledge they need to engage creatively and positively with the internet, and not be overwhelmed by it.
Led by an expert advisory group, Growing Up Digital found that when children use social media they sign up to impenetrable terms and conditions that they could never be expected to understand. These include clauses which waive their right to privacy and allow the content they post to be sold.
The terms and conditions of Instagram, which is used by 56% of 12-15 year olds and 43% of 8-11 year olds who have a social media account, were tested with a group of teenagers – and none fully understood what they were signing up to. When an expert in privacy law simplified the terms and conditions to make them understandable to the youngsters, many of them shocked by what they had unwittingly signed up to.
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “Children spend half their leisure time online. The internet is an incredible force for good but it is wholly irresponsible to let them roam in a world for which they are ill-prepared, which is subject to limited regulation and which is controlled by a small number of powerful organisations.
“When it was created 25 years ago, the internet was not designed with children in mind. No one could have predicted its phenomenal growth, nor that it would become ingrained in every aspect of everyday life. We need to rethink the way we prepare children for the digital world.”
Growing Up Digital recommends that every child in the country studies digital citizenship to learn about their rights and responsibilities online and prepare them for their digital lives. It also recommends that social media companies rewrite their terms and conditions so that children understand and can make informed decisions about them. And it asks the Government to implement legislation similar to that being introduced by the EU to protect children’s privacy and data online.
Additionally, it recommends giving children more power to tackle social media companies by appointing a digital ombudsman to mediate between them over the removal of content.