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 pitfalls, a new study by the Children’s Commissioner for England said on Thursday.
The study, titled Growing Up Digital, made major recommendations after finding 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.
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said the Internet was not designed for children.
The study found that when children use social media they sign up to impenetrable terms and conditions they could never be expected to understand.
These harbour hidden clauses which waive their right to privacy and allow the content they post to be sold.
The terms and conditions of Instagram, which is used by 56% of 12 to 15 year-olds and 43% of eight to 11 year-olds, were tested with a group of teenagers.
Younger ones were unable to read more than half of the 17 pages of text, which run to 5,000 words, and none understood fully what the terms and conditions committed them to.
The study recommended every child should study digital citizenship to build online resilience, learn about rights and responsibilities online, and prepare for digital lives.
It recommended that social media companies rewrite their terms and conditions so that children understand and can make informed decisions about them.
It also recommended giving children more power to tackle social media companies by appointing a digital ombudsman to mediate between them over the removal of content.