By Stephen Adams
Published November 15, 2009
Letting children play on the internet is just as dangerous as allowing them to roam the streets unsupervised.
Professor Tanya Byron, a clinical psychologist and television presenter who was commissioned by Gordon Brown to investigate the harmful effects of video games and websites, says parents need to think more about the dangers of the internet.
Because they had not grown up with such technology, she argues, many parents don’t know the threats and thus feel unprepared to deal with them.
Speaking in London at the annual conference of the organisation, The Voice of the Listener and Viewer, It’s up to the parents, Tanya Byron she said, “A lot of parents don’t realise that it’s the same as opening the door and going out into the street, opening that browser.”
Because children were often not allowed outside the real front door, due to dangers she felt in many cases were overstated, they were increasingly turning to the internet for their thrills instead.
“An integral part of development is risk taking,” she said. “Children are taking risks online because we live in a risk-averse culture.”
For example, said Prof Byron, who has two children, it was “crazy” that some children were now banned from playing conkers at school.
Just as her parents generation had to be told to put on seatbelts in the car, so today’s parents had to be educated about the dangers the internet held for their children, she said.
“I remember ‘Clunk-clip’ when I was a child. Now we need ‘Clunk-click,” she said, referring to clicking a computer mouse.
Prof Byron, who is Chancellor of Edge Hill University in Lancashire, described parents and other adults as “digital immigrants” who were unfamiliar with the new media world, in which children were the “natives”.
Parents “not born with this technology” needed to think about what exactly their children were watching, surfing, or playing online, she said.
Children should only be free to roam the internet when they were prepared for it.
“It’s analogous to deciding when to let my kids go to the sweetshop or make their way to school on their own,” she said.
Professor Sonia Livingstone of the London School of Economics told the conference that the dangers were “considerable”.
An EU-wide study found 40 per cent of teenagers had been exposed to pornography online, 20 per cent had been bullied and 10 per cent had met someone in the real world they had ‘met’ in a chatroom or a social media site.
In addition, the numbers of children able to surf the internet unsupervised is growing fast.
In the last two years the proportion of 12 to 15-year-olds with internet access in their bedrooms has almost doubled, from 20 to 35 per cent.
Facebook is the sixth most popular site among six to 11-year-olds, she discovered hidden in a report by Ofcom, the media regulator.
She commented: “I’m intrigued that Facebook is there given that you are not allowed to be on Facebook until you are 13.”
YouTube was the eighth most popular site for children that age and eBay the ninth. The only site specifically aimed at children in the top ten was Disney – at number 10.
In early December the UK Council for Child Internet Safety delivers its recommendations on how industry, Government and parents can best protect children online.
It was launched in March 2009 to answer questions raised by Prof Byron’s report, Safer Children in a Digital World, which she was asked to write by Gordon Brown.
A telegraph.co.uk article