In the context of repeated warnings regarding the negative impact of social media on young people the Children’s Commissioner has taken a number of actions to enable children, parents and teachers to have the required information to help children develop the skills and resilience to positively handle themselves online.
The Children Commissioner’s ‘Growing up Digital’ study called for the creation of a compulsory digital citizenship programme for school children aged 4 to 14, introducing simplified Terms and Conditions for digital services offered to children; and a new Children’s Digital Ombudsman to mediate between under 18s and social media companies.
In 2017 a Digital 5 A Day campaign was launched which offered practical guidance to parents on a healthy approach to social media. The plan was based on NHS’ guidance regarding five steps to mental well-being. The guide discusses
- Connect: advising an open dialogue about who they are connecting with and privacy settings
- Be active: promoting an active lifestyle offline
- Get creative: focusing on the educational benefits of the internet, and specifically coding
- Give to others: promoting positivity and kindness when engaging online
- Be mindful of the amount of time spent online.
The Children’s Commissioner continues to lobby social media platforms to ensure greater clarity and transparency. Terms and conditions for most social media platforms are extensive. For example Apple iTunes policies run to close to 20,000 words making it longer than Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The language used in these documents are jargonistic and given the size of the documents, pose a challenge for most adults. Such policies are particularly difficult for children and young people who are the primary target audience for these platforms. The Children’s Commission has published simplified terms and conditions for Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Instagram and YouTube. The extensive terms and conditions are summarised in a single page document which addresses the rules, the child’s rights and the social media provider’s rights. The language used is clear and straightforward, and in a do’s and don’t format setting clear guidelines for children.
In addition, a recent Oxford University study published in May 2019 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, has indicated that the negative impact of social media on children may be exaggerated. The study found that social media had a “trivial impact on life satisfaction amongst adolescence” with 99.75% of young people’s life satisfaction across a year not being impacted by using social media. The team behind the study hypothesised that it may be a subset of children who are more vulnerable to negative social media influences and recommended an open dialogue between parents and children.
The internet is here to stay and children rightly want and need to engage with it. That engagement needs to be in an environment which enables positivity and an understanding that there is a world beyond the internet itself.
Written by Louise Roden, solicitor at BLM