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For many of us in the media industry, competing successfully for young people’s time and attention is one of the biggest challenges we face. Never have the rival claims on their time and energy from games, smartphones and traditional and social media been so intense.
It’s in all our interests to maximise the amazing opportunities for children growing up in a fully connected world – but we must also take steps to minimise the risks. There is so much that we don’t know about how digital media affects young people. Researchers and scientists worldwide are working right now to get to grips with every aspect – from the impact on their behaviours and values, to their mental and physical health, to their physiological development.
There will be no easy answers. And if it’s tough for parents, experts and tech leaders to understand the forces at play, it’s far tougher for children.
Children may have all the technological know-how at their disposal, but there is no evidence that the emotional development of today’s young people is any more advanced than their grandparents’. We know this makes them vulnerable. That is something everyone should be deeply concerned about.
There are many important issues. Is there a right age for children to give consent for their data to be used online? What responsibility should organisations have to make sure their platform is appropriate for the age range that is using it?
Three quarters of 10- to 12-year-olds in the UK have a social media account – but that’s not supposed to happen until they’re 13. What about terms and conditions? How can we expect children to make sense of these when adults often cannot?
For me such questions serve to underline that it is more important than ever that we step up and act. Instead of thinking about how we might restrict children’s activities in the digital world, we need to focus on how we build a world that gives them freedom, that equips them with the skills they need to make the most of that freedom. We need to work together, across international boundaries – just like the media platforms we all use – to find a way to provide them with a world that is fun, playful, clear and above all safe.
The BBC is proud to be part of the taskforce brought together by the Duke of Cambridge and the Royal Foundation spearheading the Stop, Speak, Support campaign – a green cross code for cyberbullying. In addition we are launching a brand new website, designed specifically to help children develop the confidence and resilience they need to thrive in the digital space. It’s aimed at nine- to 12-year-olds – those we know are particularly affected by the day-to-day pressures of life online – and it offers them guidance on what they want help with.
It’s called Own It, because it’s there to help them be the bosses of their online lives. Our goal is to create a single place where children can find everything they need to navigate the internet. And it’s all supported by an “engine room” of advisers – doctors and academics who are specialists in this field.
Own It is part of the BBC’s biggest investment in children’s content for a generation. We’re committing an additional £34m to help us reimagine how we serve our youngest audiences in the years ahead. It’s an investment in Britain, reflecting British culture and values.
Children’s programming helps define our identity as a nation, and while there are many US imports we all enjoy, no one wants our children’s culture to be defined by the west coast of America. So we’ll always focus on creating programmes and other content for children across the UK, reflecting their own lives and experiences back to them.
We need to do everything we can, right now, to create a media future for children that we can be proud of, so we can all look back in 10 years’ time and be sure that we didn’t let a generation down.
By Tony Hall
4 December 2017
Tony Hall is director general of the BBC