Children’s commissioner calls for ‘digital citizenship’ in schools

Children’s commissioner Anne Longfield has called for a digital citizenship programme in every school, warning that children are being ‘left to fend for themselves in the digital world’.

A new report from the commissioner, entitled ‘Growing Up Digital’, has warned that many children are being left to learn about the internet on their own, often signing up to ‘impenetrable terms and conditions that they could never be expected to understand’.

Longfield argues that this is giving social media giants ‘control over children’s data without any accountability’, with many children unknowingly waiving their right to privacy and allowing the content they post to be sold.

Growing Up Digital recommends that digital citizenship should be obligatory in every school from 4-14 to help children to build online resilience, learn about their rights and responsibilities online and prepare them for their digital lives.

Additionally, it also recommends giving children more power to tackle social media companies by appointing a digital ombudsman to mediate between them over the removal of content.

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.

“It is also vital that children understand what they agree to when joining social media platforms, that their privacy is better protected, and they can have content posted about them removed quickly should they wish to.

“I urge the government to extend the powers of the children’s commissioner so that there is independent oversight of the number and type of complaints that social media providers are receiving from young people and I can recommend further action where required.

“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.”

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