A children’s media lobby group is urging the government to help launch a debate regarding restricting how old children should be before they can own a smartphone or other digital devices. This group considers age restrictions to be the best defence against cyber bullying and other online safety issues for kids. Making software available that parents could install on their devices to protect kids from inappropriate material is also on the agenda.
While protecting children online is of vital importance, why it happens is very complex and how it can be stopped is even more complex. A simple measure such as not allowing a child to own their first phone until they are 13 years for example, can only have limited impact. Its probably also around that age that cyber bullying might start. If we restrict children until their 15 or 16 years, will that make any difference?
There’s also the issue of education. Technology holds enormous opportunity for learning. Schools and the government require children to be well versed in using technology in their studies; an age ban heads right up against this understanding and this expectation.
A better first strategy is to gain a good understanding of children’s uses of technology at home and in social spaces. Surprisingly there is still little research on this. This would give a greater understanding of why cyber bullying is occurring and how it can be alleviated.
It also important to listen to the strategies that children use to avoid cyber bullying and keep safe online. Children are at the coalface and its important to listen to ways they can make it work, and also to advice and regulations they think wouldn’t work.