Last year, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, launched ‘The Big Ask’, the largest ever survey of children which received over 550,000 responses from children. The survey prompted a national conversation with children across England, asking children about which aspects of their life they were happy with, what they thought was important for their future and about their worries across all aspects of their lives.
A key theme throughout ‘The Big Ask’ was community, including online safety and children’s own experiences of the online world.
When asked what they think stops children in England achieving the things they want to achieve when they grow up, children told us that they want to feel safe online and they want to be able to have the same protections in a virtual world as in person. As one girl told us: ‘I don’t feel I was informed of my online safety from a young age and that it was considered a priority. Technology and social media are constantly developing so why aren’t our laws and protections for children on these platforms updating with it?’ – Girl, 14.
Many children told us that they considered online activities, including gaming and social media, a distraction from other aspects of life such as school and exams. For example, one boy said: ‘Distractions, specifically online social media and online gaming. It is a huge distraction and makes it hard to focus on important tests coming up and / or exams.’ – Boy, 15.
Another child similarly told us that their friends spent a lot of time online and that many children might compare themselves to the content they see online which could have detrimental impacts on their mental health: ‘…I know so many of my friends spend so much time on their phones, on social media, online gaming and I can see that it’s not healthy for them. It just has a bad effect on their mental health overall and I see them comparing themselves to what they see online.’ – Girl, 13.
But children also told us that the online world could be fun, allowed them to socialise during lockdown, communicate with friends and family, and had inspired them to work towards careers in the online world. As one girl said: ‘….we are rarely told about the many exciting aspects of the internet such as finding friends and even future careers!’’ – Girl, 13.