The Digital Childhood released at the Children's Global Media Summit in Manchester, was commissioned by 5Rights, an initiative for youth digital rights launched two years ago by Baroness Beeban Kidron.
It insists children and young people should be at the center of the digital environment and not left behind or overlooked despite extreme risks, such as grooming and child sexual abuse.
"The digital environment was not intended as a place for childhood, yet more than a third of its nearly 3 billion users are under 18." #5Rights report on #digitalchildhood published today: https://t.co/VrXSXu60eO pic.twitter.com/IOWGnMPpmi— MuddyPearl (@MuddyPearlBooks) December 5, 2017
Constant and unrestricted access to media means children constantly see sensationalist headlines, photoshopped images and unsavory content, which takes control out of their parents' hands as to the content they are exposed to from a young age, Jodie Cook, a social media expert and entrepreneur, believes.
"App creators are working on creating devices and platforms that are as addictive as possible, which will have an impact on children's brains and attention spans. Currently social media platforms such as Facebook have a minimum age requirement for individuals signing up and films have age restrictions, perhaps we will see this with devices too," Ms. Cook told Sputnik.
Online platforms can be used for heinous crimes such as the sexual exploitation of children by pedophiles and sex predators. This type of abuse can take almost as many forms as in the physical world, ranging from producing, storing and trading child pornography to seeking paid or unpaid sex online once onscreen contact has been established, normally via smartphones.
Online grooming by pedophiles — the process of persuading a youngster to have sex online, sharing photographs or arranging to meet — is now at an alarmingly high level, prompting the UK government to introduce a new law in April 2017 whereby groomers who target children through mobile phones and social media will face two years in prison.
The National Crime Agency warned December 4 sex offenders are increasingly using live online streaming platforms to exploit children. In one week alone, authorities identified 345 vulnerable children and arrested 192 people, 30 percent involving streaming, blackmail and grooming.
Next week the House of Lords is scheduled to vote on an amendment to the Data Protection Bill which would force social networks to build child protection into their sites as well as make 13 the minimum age at which a child could create social media accounts online. Ofcom said 43 percent of 11-year olds already have accounts.
YouTube announced on December 5 it will employ new and improved digital algorithms as well as thousands of human moderators across Google to shield its young viewers from disturbing content.
Dr. Angharad Rudkin, child clinical psychologist at the University of Southampton, lead author of The Digital Childhood report said:
"There are so many new challenges parents are facing today to do with the digital world they didn't experience themselves when they were growing up. This can make parenting, which can be an already difficult experience, even harder."
Baroness Kidron admitted the report was long overdue, saying: "If we leave things as they are, we denigrate the status of children, and childhood, in the plain sight of parents, media, civil society and governments."
The report warns of other risks arising from children using smartphones ranging from insomnia, obesity, low self-esteem and oversharing. These present real harm to child development especially sleep deprivation, which can affect concentration, performance at school and general well-being.