Consequences of the pandemic: Media usage amongst kids is booming
Classes via video conference, meeting up with friends in chatrooms, only visiting grandparents online: Due to the restrictions imposed in 2020 in connection with Covid-19, digital media has become more important to children and teens than ever before. This claim is supported by a study conducted by the Danish toy manufacturer Lego1 this year, for which 1,000 parents were surveyed. Above all, conversations with friends (plus 43 percent) and media consumption (plus 31 percent) were the most important factors for the increase in usage.
The question of online security in children’s media is becoming louder
However, this digital boom is also bringing the question of the security of digital channels and platforms into the spotlight. The study EU Kids Online 20202 explores this issue and has interviewed children and teens from 19 countries. In particular, it examines the security of communication in social media as well as protection from age-inappropriate media and data security.
An initiative in the UK shows just how important these goals really are. Starting in autumn 2021, a new Code of Practice3 will be enforced in the UK to protect children better whilst they are online. In addition to that, the latest Internet Governance Forum of the United Nations (IGF)4 held in November 2020 has been dealing with the issue for years: More and more children across the world are becoming digital citizens who use the Internet to learn, communicate, and play.
Digital natives and support from parents
Most parents support their children on their way to a responsible use of the digital world. That is what the authors of the Lego study found out: around 80% of young users receive targeted advice from their parents concerning safe use of the Internet. The Children’s Internet Usage Study5 conducted by the American Center for Cyber Safety and Education supports such findings: The survey of students in grades four to eight resulted in 87 percent of the children saying that they are taught how to use the internet safely.
On the other hand, however, there is an increasing and blatant difference in the ability to use digital communication and media: In many cases it is not the parents who are helping their children, but the other way around. Always-on and influenced by their smart devices, kids are helping older family members to solve more challenging tasks on the net.
Toy manufacturers becoming platform providers
This situation presents an opportunity for toy manufacturers: With safe web platforms for children and teens, they can take over responsibility and at the same time increase brand loyalty of their youngest end customers. Lego decided to go this way and launched the platform Lego Life in 2017, which young builders can use to post their models and ideas and interact with each other.
The service, which the company claims is a “safe social network for children under the age of 13” is accessible via a free app for iOS and Android. The platform features security functions such as authenticated parental consent. Furthermore, each post is checked by Lego’s own team of moderators, and there are no real names or profile pictures. A big difference to the big social media channels: instead of being at risk of receiving hate comments, the moderated communication ensures a friendly and positive atmosphere. In addition, kids are made aware of the significance of online security by the character Captain Security: For example, they are warned to not reveal any personal information. While creating the network, Lego even worked with the United Nations’ Children’s Fund, UNICEF.
Security for digital toys
The issue of digital security is especially important for toys which build upon the corresponding technologies themselves. Particularly in the areas of educational toys and STEM, but also with interactive and networked products and media toys, there are numerous interfaces with the Internet. Among others, Ingrida Milkaite and Eva Lievens of the Belgian University of Gent addressed the relevant challenges for the protection of the personal data of children and teens at a workshop held by the Digital Freedom Fund (DFF) in Berlin.6
Pebble Gear7 showed awareness for the topic with their latest Kids Tablets for children between the age of 3 and 8: The tablet computers for (pre-) school students in the Disney designs Mickey and Friends and Disney Pixar: Cars are designed to be a safe way of entry into the digital world for kids. In particular, this involves control functions for parents enabling them to keep track of the content their children consume and how long they are active online.
1 Cf.: Lego- press release of 24 June 2020.
2 Cf.: http://eukidsonline.net
3 Cf.: https://ico.org.uk/about-the-ico/news-and-events/news-and-blogs/2020/01/ico-publishes-code-of-practice-to-protect-children-s-privacy-online/
4 Cf.: https://www.intgovforum.org/multilingual/content/dynamic-coalition-on-child-online-safety-dccos
5 Cf.: https://isc2-center.my.salesforce.com/sfc/p/ - G0000000iVSt/a/0f000000fyoc/TYQ9XvDATBA78rR00G.PGJ9fmaLm1vQfAW9HCpy3GWk
6 Cf.: https://digitalfreedomfund.org/towards-a-better-protection-of-childrens-personal-data-collected-by-connected-toys-and-devices/
7 Cf.: Pebble Gear- press release of 17 November 2020.