The Blog

Growing Up Digital

Childhood has been transformed by technology. It has happened swiftly, in a creative but socially and legally disorganised way. Today iRights publish an important report examining these issues...

Childhood has been transformed by technology. It has happened swiftly, in a creative but socially and legally disorganised way. Today iRights publish an important report examining these issues. The organisation which began with one film-maker's concern has created a unique association of internet companies, charities, entrepreneurs, ministers and media entities with an interest and ability to bring about change.

iRights has shown that there is a collective civil concern. It has engaged with young people and found them bewildered and angered by their loss of power and control online. It has worked with the legal profession to analyse the legal basis of children's digital engagement and has worked with technology companies and the wider digital industry.

There is little doubt that the digital revolution is changing childhood. Entertainment has moved away from the social sphere - a family grouped around the telly - and into the private, personalised sphere of the bedroom; increasingly accessed via YouTube and other media sites. Children no longer expect to play out with their neighbours but regularly engage in a digital world of online games with unknown actors from across the globe.

The potential for creativity, for knowledge and innovation is immense. But it carries challenges with it which are unprecedented. We should remember that the internet was not designed with children in mind yet children are some of the greatest users. A child whose hands cannot yet write the letter 'A' now literally has the world at her fingertips via internet enabled touchscreen technology. Around 85% of teenagers have a smart phone. If children are to grow up digitally we need to ensure the rights they enjoy in the physical world extend to the digital world they inhabit.

Whilst young people seem to have the technical skills to negotiate the internet they may not have the social skills. Unable to disconnect, unknowing about the online world, careless of their own data, too often young people are walking blind into world wide web alleyways of risk.

That's why the iRights frame, safeguard and empower children and young people: the right to remove information, to know who is holding information on them, to make informed choices, to safety online and support if needed and the right to learn online. The iRights initiative aims to encourage all companies and organisations with a digital footprint to give a universal standard of pledges to help protect and inform young people online - the right to remove, to safety, to know, to make informed choices and to digital literacy.

These developments lead to a powerful conclusion. If children of today and tomorrow are to grow up digitally, we need to be sure that their rights to protection and empowerment are extended to cover the new digital world they inhabit. Frankly, the adult world and the regulatory rule book, just aren't set up to manage this brave new world. As the legal guardian of children's rights and best interests in England, this is of serious concern to me.

This is why I am today announcing a new taskforce - Growing Up Digital - which will begin its work in the autumn. Bringing together experts with young people, the group will examine and explore children's experiences, ambitions, needs and concerns about the digital world and examine and challenge the industry response. My goal is nothing less than a new digital settlement for young people.

This taskforce will build on the important work of iRights to create a new digital aspect of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child recognising the new reality of growing up digital. With growing understanding we have an opportunity to make real and lasting improvements to children's digital lives - present and future.

Anne Longfield is the Children's Commissioner for England