Both children and parents face many digital dilemmas
More than nine out of ten children have their own mobile phone by the time they are ten years old, and approximately half of ten-year-olds use social media, according to the Norwegian Media Authority's survey Children and media 2022, meaning that many young people start their digital experiences quite early. In a new report from the Norwegian Media Authority, parents with children aged 9 to 12 say that they allow their children to access social media, even though they are aware of the danger of being exposed to content and situations the children are not mature enough to handle. An important reason for this is the fear that the children will be left behind by friends. At the same time, parents and carers express that they feel alone with the dilemmas that arise, and some think they fall short when it comes to following up on their children's digital everyday life.
In the interviews that form the basis of the report "Digital dilemmas", both children and parents address specific challenges:
- Self-regulation vs. rules. Many children find it difficult to regulate their own mobile phone use, and some say they suffer from using screens for long hours. Some believe that children get access to smartphones and social media too early.
- Availability vs. the right to privacy. The children say they feel the pressure to be available to friends and to be digitally visible through maps or tracking apps.
- Need for control vs. freedom. Over half of parents and carers of nine- and ten-year-olds use technology that tracks or shows where the child is, according to Parents and Media 2022. One reason for this is the perceived need to protect the children.
- "Good, old-fashioned childhood" vs. to follow current developments. Many parents would like their children to have had a childhood more like their own – with more physical development, creative activities and physical togetherness. At the same time, it is generally accepted that much of the children's social life and learning takes place via mobile phones nowadays.
- Ideals vs. time crunch. Parents often feel inadequate or have a guilty conscience because they do not live up to the ideal of "exploring the web with the children". Many people find it difficult to have the time, capacity and expertise to follow up on this advice in practice.
- Following one's own principles vs. to do like "everyone else". Even parents who had planned and were prepared for when their children would get a mobile phone, or about observing age limits for social media, later experienced that their choices were put to the test in the face of pressure from other parents.
Responsibility on a societal level
How do parents and carers deal with these dilemmas? Our interviews show that many parents give in to what they perceive as pressure, even if they are skeptical of early mobile phone use and social media. Those who are concerned about their children's screen use would like to have more support, advice and common rules, for example through school and public recommendations. Others want this to be resolved to a large extent within the individual family.
The Norwegian Media Authority believes that the time is ripe to lift more of the responsibility up to societal level. Of course, it is still the parents who must make many choices for their children, including setting boundaries and standing by unpopular decisions. Engagement, conversations and continuing involvement are also important.
We need stronger regulation to protect children
It is felt that current regulation is no longer enough. The global tech platforms have great power and influence on children and young people's everyday lives. These are fully commercial actors who, through their services, challenge children's safety in several ways. A stronger regulation is needed. Fortunately, there will now be new regulations at EU level, which will also apply for Norway. National legislation to protect children online should also be reviewed and improved, as the Privacy Protection Commission has suggested.
There is a need for clear and agreed advice
Public authorities must realise that many parents and carers feel alone in the digital upbringing of children. All relevant public professional bodies should now join forces to prepare clearer and knowledge-based recommendations. This can be done as part of the follow-up of the national strategy for a safe digital upbringing. We also need more knowledge and research, as it was pointed out by the Media Harm Committee back in 2021.
There is no "quick fix" to solve the digital dilemmas that children and parents find themselves in. But the issues must be discussed, both at societal level and within the individual family. There are many of us who must contribute to ensuring that children have an active, participatory and safe digital everyday life.
Find out more about the work of the Norwegian Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.
Find out more about the annual global celebration of Safer Internet Day at www.saferinternetday.org.