Children often 'left to learn about the internet on their own'

Children and parents need better support to navigate the digital world.
Child and Computer 08473 Nevit Dilmen

Professor Sonia Livingstone has contributed to a new report which has found children are left to learn about the internet on their own, with parents vainly hoping they will benefit from its opportunities while avoiding its pitfalls.

Growing Up Digital, a year-long study into how well children are prepared to engage with the internet, found that the time children spend online is 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 also 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. The expert advisory group found that when children use social media they sign up to impenetrable terms and conditions that they could never be expected to understand. These harbour hidden clauses which waive a users right to privacy and allow the content they post to be sold.

Growing Up Digital recommends that every child in the country studies digital citizenship to build online resilience, learn about their rights and responsibilities online and prepare them for their digital lives, with a broad obligatory digital citizenship programme in every school from 4-14.

The report recommends that social media companies rewrite their terms and conditions so that children understand and can make informed decisions about them. It also recommends the Government to implement legislation similar to that being introduced by the EU to protect children’s privacy and data online. Children should be given more power to tackle social media companies by appointing a digital ombudsman to mediate between them over the removal of content.

Professor Sonia Livingstone of the Department of Media and Communications at LSE and Digital Taskforce member, said: “Children and parents need better support to navigate the digital world, as research shows over and again. Our report includes clear recommendations for government, schools and industry.”

Behind the article

Growing up Digital is a report from the Children's Commissioner's Growing Up Digital Taskforce, chaired by Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England.