The Children’s Commissioner for England said
children did not know how to deal with common
problems they found online.
Anne Longfield called for new laws to protect
children’s online privacy and data and for a digital
ombudsman to be created to uphold their rights.
The government said children were taught about
online safety in schools.
However, the children’s commissioner’s Growing
Up Digital report said children were being “left to
learn about the internet on their own with parents
vainly hoping that they will benefit from its
opportunities while avoiding its pitfalls”.
Ms Longfield said: “The internet is an incredible
force for good, but it is wholly irresponsible to let
them roam in a world for which they are ill-
prepared, which is subject to limited regulation and
which is controlled by a small number of powerful
Her report recommended that:
Children should study “digital citizenship” to
learn about their rights and responsibilities
online, so they are prepared for online activities
Social media companies should rewrite their
“impenetrable” terms and conditions in far
simpler language so children know what they
are agreeing to
Ministers should create a “digital ombudsman”
to mediate for children seeking the removal of
Ms Longfield said: “It is critical that children are
educated better so that they can enjoy the
opportunities provided by the internet whilst
minimising the well-known risks.
“It is also vital that children understand what they
agree to when joining social media platforms, that
their privacy is better protected, and they can have
content posted about them removed quickly should
they wish to.”
The report said children were agreeing to
“impenetrable” terms and conditions they could
never understand when using social media.
It said small print often contained “hidden clauses”
waiving privacy rights and allowing content children
posted to be sold.
The study tested the terms and conditions of photo-
sharing website Instagram, which the report said
was used by 56% of 12 to 15-year-olds and 43% of
eight to 11-year-olds, with a group of teenagers.
The report said: “Younger ones were unable to read
more than half of the 17 pages of text, which run to
5,000 words, and none understood fully what the
terms and conditions committed them to.
“An expert in privacy law on the Growing Up Digital
panel simplified, demystified and condensed the
terms and conditions so that they were
comprehensible to teenagers, leaving many of them
shocked by what they had unwittingly signed up to.”
Javed Khan, chief executive of children’s charity
Barnardo’s, said: “This report provides further
worrying evidence of how children are unprepared
to deal with life online and receive little help in
dealing with cyber-bullying, ‘sexting’ and
A Department for Education spokesman said the UK
was a “world leader in internet safety”, but
accepted there was more to do adding that it would
consider the report’s findings.
He said: “The internet has given children and young
people fantastic opportunities, but protecting them
from risks they might face online or on their phones
He added that children in primary schools were
taught how to use technology safely, respectfully
and responsibly, including how to keep personal
The department added that it was investing £4.5m
in supporting teachers to deliver the new computing
curriculum, which includes e-safety.
Social media companies have to have robust
processes in place to address inappropriate and
abusive content on their sites, and they are
expected to respond quickly to incidents of abusive
behaviour on their networks