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Children are left to learn about the internet on their own with “parents vainly hoping” that they will benefit from its opportunities while avoiding its dangers, new research reveals.
According to Anne Longfield, the children's commissioner for England, the age at which children have unlimited and unsupervised access to the internet is getting lower, with children as young as three and four now spending an average of eight hours each week online - watching films and playing games.
A year-long study published by the commissioner, titled 'Growing Up Digital', recommends that every child in England studies digital citizenship to build online resilience, learn about their rights and responsibilities and to prepare them for their digital lives.
Ms Longfield 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. It is critical that children are educated better so that they can enjoy the opportunities provided by the internet whilst minimising the well-known risks.
“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.”
The Growing Up Digital study claims that "much more needs to be done to create a supportive digital environment for children and young people".
This includes making a broader digital citizenship programme obligatory in every educational setting for children aged between four and 14-years-old, helping to equip them with the knowledge they need to engage creatively and positively with the internet, and not be overwhelmed by it.
It also asks the Government to implement legislation similar to that being introduced by the EU to protect children’s privacy and data online.
Baroness Beeban Kidron, 5Rights founder and a member of the Growing Up Digital steering group said: “The children’s commissioner has made an important intervention on a subject that is a central concern of parents, carers, teachers and young people themselves. She has identified the lack of support in services that children routinely use, a yawning gap in their digital education and an unsustainable situation where the long-established rights of children are not applied online.
“The relationship between digital services and children will be an evolving one which will be constantly addressed and updated - but her recommendations are immediate and practical and usefully lay emphasis on those who provide services, the education of children who use them and the responsibilities of the UK Government and the UN to update their provisions.”
For more information visit: www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk