As our children get more screen time than ever before, a shocking new report has revealed that youngsters are being left to fend for themselves on the internet against the dangers of bullying and harassment
Texting. Instant messaging. Interactive gaming. Uploading photos. Our children today have more ways to stay connected than ever before. And now, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has called for new laws to protect children’s online privacy and data after her Growing Up Digital report revealed that children were being “left to learn about the internet on their own with parents vainly hoping that they will benefit from its opportunities while avoiding its pitfalls”.
“It is critical that children are educated better so that they can enjoy the opportunities provided by the internet while minimising the well-known risks,” she says. “It’s also vital that children understand what they agree to when joining social media platforms – and they can have content posted about them removed quickly should they wish to.”
At the moment, Ms Longfield’s report states that children are agreeing to “impenetrable” terms and conditions that they could never understand and the small print often contained in “hidden clauses” waives privacy rights, allowing content children post to be sold.
She also told Radio 4’s Today that the internet isn’t designed for children, even though they are now the biggest users. “Parents are always going to be on a losing battle which is why we need to take greater action to shift the balance of power towards children,” she added.
The study tested teenagers’ ability to understand the terms and conditions of Instagram, which says it is used by 56% of 12 to 15 year olds and 43% of eight to 11 year olds. Shockingly, the report said “Younger ones were unable to read more than half of the 17 pages of text, which runs to 5,000 words, and none understood fully what the terms and conditions committed them to. An expert in privacy law on the Growing Up Digital panel later simplified, demystified and condensed the terms and conditions to that they were comprehensible to teenagers, leaving many of them shocked by what they had unwittingly signed up to.”
A government spokesperson said the UK was a “world leader in internet safety” but accepted that there was more to do, adding it would consider the report’s findings. He also added that children in primary schools were being taught how to use technology safely, respectfully and responsibly, including how to keep personal information private.
But is that enough? Do you have concerns for your own children using the internet? Tweet us your thoughts at @_Little_London