Community is a core pillar of my work as Children’s Commissioner following ‘The Big Ask’, which was the largest-ever survey of children. This survey demonstrated how important being able to play safely both offline and online is to children.
Children explained that they want activities to do in their local areas and wanted to be able to play, go outside, and see their friends. Just over half (52%) of children aged 9—17 are happy with the choice of things to do in their local area. They want things to do: activities that are affordable, fun, and sustaining.
My work will look at how we can provide children with the time and space to play safely, on or offline, no matter where in the country they live. This will mean ensuring that children are supported to feel safe in their communities, with a particular focus on girls who spoke of the difficulties they can face at the moment. As one child said: “I have been a victim of catcalling and it is not nice. I am 13. A minor and I am being cat called by middle aged men. No. That is not right” – Girl, 13.
Another important theme to come out of this pillar of ‘The Big Ask’ is the impact of the online world on children and young people.
Children acknowledged that whilst the online world had some positive effects, but, they also spoke of the harms that comes from it and the impact this had on their wellbeing and mental health. As one child said: “I think that we all spend so much time on social media, worrying about how many followers we have, that we don’t get enough time to just stop and do nothing, or go outside or spend more time with our families” – Girl, 12.
Children also spoke about the harms they could stumble across online. As one child said: “I was pressured into watching horrific pornography that effects how young boys behave towards and think they can treat women. As a boy myself, I was unable to understand the everyday struggle of the girls in my class, then one day I did. I was ostracised for not cat calling girls in the class, watching pornography or sexually assaulting any girls” – Boy, 14.
A vital part of what children were asking for was more protection on the online world, so that they can feel safer. In 2021, the Government commissioned me to look at how we can act now to make it safer for children and to also look at making sure children’s voices are represented in the Online Safety Bill. Now, as the Bill passes through the Commons and Lords, I will continue to represent children’s needs and make sure we do all we can to make sure children are protected online.
The Online Safety Bill was published shortly after my final report to the Government commission on child-on-child abuse. I was very glad to see many of our recommendations adopted, including around age assurance and pornography. In the run up the Second Reading of the Bill, I convened 15 internet safety organisations and charities to write to all MPs on our view on the Online Safety Bill. I will continue to closely track the progress of this Bill and represent children’s voices.
No child should have to stumble across harmful content online, and my office is taking action to try and tackle this issue. Our guide for parents and carers, ‘The things I wish my parents had known, young people’s advice on talking to your child about online sexual harassment‘, draws together advice from 16-21 year olds on how parents should manage tricky conversations around sexual harassment and access to inappropriate content, including pornography, providing support and guidance.