Growing up digital

Some bright and techy year 6 Exeter pupils looked very sharp as they joined the national debate about internet safety on breakfast TV.

The youngsters from Tedburn st Mary primary school taught the grown-ups a thing or two about staying safe online when they appeared on Good Morning Britain to highlight a report on our children’s digital life.

The report’s findings, the results of a year-long study give a glimpse of what our children are up to on their screens and much of it makes difficult reading for parents.

Crucially, the time children are spending online is continuing to increase, 3-4 year olds now typically spend almost 8 ½ hours a week online, and 12-15 year olds over 20 hours a week.

Added to that, almost a third of 15-year olds admit to sending a naked photo of themselves at least once and a third of 12-15 year olds have seen hateful content. Although much of this content is illegal,  accountability is poor. Several studies have shown that youngsters don’t know how to report their concerns or are dissatisfied with the action taken when they do.

It is telling also that the number of children counselled by Childline about online bullying has doubled over the last five years.

No wonder then that the Children’s Commission is calling for action. A digital Ombudsman, a broader and compulsory digital citizenship program for 4-14 year olds and clearer, more concise terms and conditions from the corporations who run our apps.  These may seem like small steps in the fast moving digital world but as children now spend half their leisure time online the message is clear.  Although the internet is an incredible force for good, as a nation, we need to rethink the way we prepare our youngsters for their lifetime’s journey through the digital world.