Growing up in a digital world

Today’s children have grown up with the internet as a normal part of their lives.  Online shopping, bank accounts and newspapers still seem mildly magical to those of us old enough to remember the 1980s, but our children involve the net in all aspects of their lives without a second thought. 

And that can be a problem.  The internet is user-agnostic: apart from a few filters offering parents a modicum of control, it has not evolved with children in mind.  They can all too easily come across content that would make adults blush, or fall victim to cyber-bullying or grooming.  ‘Growing up with the internet’, the Lords’ report, identifies the difficulties in reconciling how children are protected from these hazards while still having the access they need to live their modern lives successfully. 

The report recognises that parents, schools, online companies and Government all have a role to play, but suggests the prevailing self-regulatory regime is inadequate.  It calls for “a step change from the highest level of the Government to represent the needs of children online.” 

Can an entity that disregards international boundaries and is constantly changing ever be successfully regulated?  While exhorting the Government to try, the report also recognises that giving children the know-how to look after themselves online is fundamental.  “Learning to survive in a world dominated by the internet should be as important for children as reading and writing”.

In the physical world, the shape of the classroom is changing to encourage children to collaborate and discover solutions for themselves.  We need to consider that the digital world is every bit as real for children.  As far as possible we need to make it a safe place for them to explore.  But we must also help them develop the knowledge and wisdom to negotiate the inevitable pitfalls that will continue to lie in wait.

House of Lords Committee Report “Growing up with the internet”  March 2017