Ban kids from tech use, says academic report

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Under fives should be banned from using technology on their own and teenagers given 'reputation management' lessons a groundbreaking report recommends.

The research from leaders in the field of tech and child psychology have also demanded companies do more to tackle the 'social pressure' faced by teens online.

The Digital Childhood report, led by the University of Southampton, also urges the industry to lay out 'child-centred design standards' to improve the response to reports of risk or harm online.

It recommends proper guidance for children getting a smartphone for the first time and encourages schools and colleges to offer more education in areas of technology like coding.

The report also says teenagers 'reputation management' lessons in school should be combined with how to access trusted sexual, psychological and emotional health services.

It has been compiled by a total of 11 clinical experts from institutions which also include the University of Oxford and Imperial College London.

Digital rights

Clinical child psychologist Dr Angharad Rudkin, who led the report, said: "Children and young people need to be supported on their journey through the digital world and should have access to the same privileges, information and rights that they enjoy in the analogue world.

"A child's age and development stage and the impact the digital environment can have on a child's well-being need to be taken into account when we are designing new digital platforms or considering changing policy.

"There are so many new challenges that parents are facing today to do with the digital world that they did not experience themselves when they were growing up.

"This can make parenting, what can be an already difficult experience, even harder.

"We all need to take more responsibility - government, parents and clinicians - to ensure children and young people are more informed and supported through their digital activity and we hope this report helps to improve things."

Kids’ tech

The report was convened by Baroness Beeban Kidron OBE, who said it is essential the government works with tech giants to create a digital environment 'fit for childhood'.

The paper, launched today (TUES) at the Children's Global Media Summit in Manchester, warns 10-12 year olds are 'poorly served by the current provision of online sites and services'.

It adds young teenagers are 'particularly susceptible to social pressures' online.

Baroness Kidron said: "If we allow a digital environment that doesn't take account of the needs of childhood, we reject the hard-won privileges and protections that a century and a half of careful consideration, research and lawmaking across the globe has afforded our children.

"If we leave things as they are, we denigrate the status of children, and childhood, in the plain sight of parents, media, civil society and governments."

The report also outlined how, while there is an awareness of extreme risks like grooming and child sexual abuse, other aspects tend to be overlooked.

These include insomnia, obesity, low self-esteem and oversharing.

The experts gave the example of sleep deprivation caused by extended tech use affecting concentration, performance at school and general well being.

Sonia Livingstone, Professor of Social Psychology in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE, said: "If we're going to design an internet fit for children, then we must tailor it for their specific needs and capacities as these develop with age and experience.

"This report is a wonderful resource to help us do exactly that."

Key recommendations from the report include:

3-5 Years:

- All technology used by children at this age should be adult-guided.

- Screen guidelines (which should not focus exclusively on screen time) should be developed which consider child development requirements.

6-9 Years:

- Children of this age should be taught social norms of contact with other people, both previously known to them and previously unknown.

- Child-centred design standards should anticipate independent child use, for example, make erasure processes obvious, simple and effective, and demonstrate a commitment to rapid response to reports of risk/harm from children.

10-12 Years:

- Children receiving a smartphone for the first time should be taught how to use age-appropriate settings and safety features and those entering secondary school should have a year 7 'smart phone literacy reboot'.

- Children in this age group should be taught online skills and competencies.

- Government and industry should recognise that this age-group are poorly served by current provision of online sites and services.

13-15 Years:

- Parents, teachers and adults should acknowledge this as a time of growing autonomy. For advice to be heard it must be communicated with warmth and openness and from a young persons' perspective.

- Education should include critical thinking about online experiences and information.

- Industry must acknowledge, and respond to the fact, that children of this age are particularly susceptible to social pressures.

16-18 Years:

- Education providers should offer career advice and training in automation, the internet of things, machine learning, digital content and design, as well as reputation management, use of government and commercial services, financial matters and knowing how to access trusted sexual, psychological and emotional health services.

- Industry should alert young people as they approach 18 years of age to the differences in the services that will come into place when they reach adulthood.