‘Action needed’ to protect the young online

Anne Longfield, chief executive of the charity 4children

Anne Longfield, chief executive of the charity 4children

Children are being left to “fend for themselves” against dangers such as bullying and grooming in the digital world, the Children’s Commissioner for England has claimed.

Anne Longfield (pictured) said youngsters who are spending increasing amounts of time online are not getting the support required and called for Government action.

A study into children and the internet, titled Growing Up Digital and published by the Commissioner today, claims that “much more needs to be done to create a supportive digital environment for children and young people”.

Three to four-year-olds spend an of average eight hours 18 minutes a week online - from watching films to playing games - while 12 to 15-year-olds use it for at least 20 hours per week, the report claims.

This “explosion” of time spent online has left parents “hoping that bad things wouldn’t happen” because they feel they lack the “capabilities or the capacity” to deal with any issues that arise from their child’s internet use, meaning children feel they have to navigate the web without parental support, Ms Longfield said.

The study found children struggled to understand the “impenetrable” terms and conditions of social media sites. Teenagers were asked to read the terms and conditions of photo-sharing site Instagram as part of the study, but none was able to understand fully what they meant, the report found. Ms Longfield said: “There was a clear comeback from the kids themselves saying ‘I’m staring at the words but they aren’t meaningful to me’.”