The debate over children’s connectivity received an extra boost this week after the World Health Organisation listed gaming addiction as a medical disorder. This comes after a nine-year-old girl was admitted to rehab after becoming so addicted to Fortnite that she wet herself and hit her father when he tried to limit her play time. Meanwhile, a mother campaigned for treatment for her 15-year-old son who was apparently so addicted to the latest craze video game that he didn’t attend school for a whole year.
As of Monday, the NHS, along with healthcare systems around the world, will have to provide free treatment after healthcare chiefs listed it under the International Classification of Diseases. The government has gone one further, as this week information commissioner Elizabeth Denham is expected to unveil a consultation asking parents and children to feed into plans for a new legally enforced code regulating children’s privacy, their rights and to ensure they only access age-appropriate material on the web.
Keen to stay ahead of the curve, following the controversy over social media giants’ slowness in reacting to anti-Semitic content supported by ads on the web, Google has launched two parallel educational programmes in the UK to help teachers play a role in promoting safer internet use for their students.
Having undertaken a survey of teachers across the global, the internet giant found that 99% of those teachers polled felt that online safety should be made part of the primary school curriculum, whilst 85% of teachers felt parents aren’t doing enough to protect their children online. Google responded by creating the Be Internet Legends program for teachers of Key Stage 2 primary school students, whilst the Be Internet Citizens program is aimed at 13-15-year olds to counter the online ‘troll’ culture and encourage adolescents to have a positive voice online.
With one in five children admitting to checking their phones during the night and almost a quarter of children classed as “extreme users”, spending more than six hours online outside of school hours during the week, the government is increasingly looking to encourage other social media companies to follow Google’s lead in being accountable for the way in which they target minor users of their programmes. Some of the options being touted to encourage tech giants to go one step further on the path of self-regulation are fines for social media companies sending notifications during school hours or when children should be asleep; and compulsory deactivation of features designed to promote extended use such as auto-play videos or snapchat streaks.
Ultimately, while society and our regulators must accept that tablet and online usage is universal for today’s youth, the digital world must become more age-appropriate and accept responsibility for treating our children as children. This may mean have different child protection facilities for various stages of a child’s development, which can help teachers and parents alike protect children from online exploitation. The internet and smartphones can play a vital part in children’s education, but only if adults and those in authority accept that children have a place in the digital arena and adapt their content and parameters accordingly.
By Shari Ryness, Account Director