Over the past ten years, digital technologies and the way children use them have changed remarkably. Nowadays, most young people use their smartphones daily and almost twice as much compared to the past. They also use them from a much younger age, as the EU Kids Online 2020 survey indicates.
The digital environment brings opportunities and benefits by enabling significant interactions with others, to learn and be entertained. But the online world also comes with concerning risks such as cyberbullying, the exposure to disinformation or harmful/illegal content, from which children, especially, need to be sheltered. For example, read the Joint Research Centre (JRC) study on the dramatic impact of COVID-19 on the lives of young people, and the increasing frequency of online risks experienced.
It therefore follows that a new European strategy for a Better Internet for Kids was needed, advocating for accessible, age-appropriate and informative online content and services that are in children's best interests.
The strategy in a nutshell
The updated BIK+ strategy considers the European Parliament Resolution on children’s rights, the Council Conclusions on media literacy and the Council Recommendation establishing a European Child Guarantee. This new strategy is based on an extensive consultation process with children, complemented by targeted consultations with parents, teachers, Member States, ICT and media industry, civil society, academics and international organisations.
BIK+ aims to complement and support the practical implementation of the existing measures to protect children online, develop children’s skills, and empower them to safely enjoy and shape their life online.
The vision for a Digital Decade for children and youth contemplates “age-appropriate digital services, with no one left behind and with every child in Europe protected, empowered and respected online” and proposes three main pillars to achieve this vision:
- Ensuring safe digital experiences: protecting children and young people from harmful and online content, conduct, and online risks and improving their well-being in an age-appropriate digital environment.
- Digital empowerment: children and young people must acquire the necessary skills and competences to make informed choices and express themselves in the digital environment safely and responsibly.
- Active participation: children and young people must be respected by giving them a say in the digital environment, with more child-led activities to foster innovative and creative safe digital experiences.
The European Commission proposes a series of actions to build on and reinforce the existing infrastructure and to deliver the vision for a Digital Decade for youth.
Safe digital experiences - how to better protect children online
Bearing in mind the significant responsibility that industry stakeholders carry in designing safe digital experiences, the Commission will:
- encourage and facilitate the design of a comprehensive EU code of conduct on age-appropriate design building on the framework provided in the Digital Services Act (DSA).
- request a European standard on online age assurance/age verification in the context of the eID proposal and support the development of an EU-wide recognised digital proof of age based on date of birth.
- include a focus on adult-only content in the planned code of conduct under the gender equality strategy 2020-2025.
- ensure that the European child helpline 116 111 addresses cyberbullying, in cooperation with Safer Internet Centres and their national helplines, and co-fund such helplines and hotlines to assist the public, and children and young people in particular.
- share recommendations related to cyberbullying from the expert group for supporting well-being at school.
- map existing research on the impact of neuro-marketing on children and support coordinated enforcement activities carried out under the Consumer Protection Cooperation Regulation.
Digital empowerment - how to better empower children to make sound choices online
The Commission will:
- support the monitoring of the impact of the digital transformation on children’s well-being by Member States, industry and academics via the BIK portal.
- develop and distribute teaching modules (MOOCs) for teachers via the BIK portal and national Safer Internet Centres.
- promote the exchange of good practices for national curricula on media literacy between Member States and among schools and educators across Europe.
- organise media literacy campaigns targeting children, teachers, parents and carers, and develop awareness-raising tools and activities on the risks facing children as young consumers, with the support of the BIK portal and the European Safer Internet Centres.
- strengthen the support of Safer Internet Centres in Member States to provide children in vulnerable situations with non-formal education and training to address the digital divide.
Active participation - how to respect children’s views
Acknowledging the importance of actively involving children and young people in all their diversity in shaping the digital environment, especially during the European Year of Youth, the Commission will:
- involve children in the creation of the EU code of conduct on age-appropriate design (Pillar 1).
- launch a child-initiated and child-led action on a digitally relevant topic for the young generation.
- expand the role of BIK Youth Ambassadors and BIK Youth Panels to support peer-to-peer activities at national, regional and local level.
- create a child-friendly version of BIK+ strategy.
- organise a child-led evaluation of the BIK+ strategy every 2 years.
The child-friendly version of the BIK+ strategy
As part of the plans to ensure a safer online experience for all children and young people, it was pivotal to address them directly and provide them with the necessary tools to learn how to safely access and enjoy what the online world has to offer, and to be aware of potential risks and concerns. Thus, a child-friendly version of the BIK+ strategy was developed, starting from the key principles (or pillars) of the strategy and adapting the language and visual style to target a younger audience. Additionally, the child-friendly version includes a guide to explain some of the more specific jargon used in the leaflet, providing further context and information about the development of the strategy.
The making of the child-friendly version of the strategy would not have been possible without the crucial contribution of young people themselves. Indeed, a number of BIK Youth Ambassadors from all over Europe were consulted during the process, and provided invaluable feedback and assistance on the tone, style, and content of the child-friendly version.
Participation in the Digital Assembly
On 21-22 June 2022, the Digital Assembly took place in Toulouse, France. The two-day conference included a workshop on the newly adopted European strategy for a Better Internet for Kids (BIK+). The workshop provided the opportunity to present the new strategy and saw the participation of BIK Youth Ambassadors Dimitris and Sina, who thoroughly voiced the thoughts and opinions of children and young people. The BIK Youth Ambassadors stressed the importance of involving youth in the decision-making process and encouraging their participation in such initiatives for change, and that it should be mandatory for young people to learn about online risks, misinformation and disinformation, and other key online safety concerns.
Reverse learning was also discussed as a powerful tool to empower youth to become agents of change and digital teachers for their families and carers.
June Lowery-Kingston and Manuela Martra from DG Connect with BIK Youth Ambassadors Dimitris and Sina. Credits: Better Internet for Kids
What’s next for BIK+?
The European Commission will now start working with Member States and stakeholder groups to further define, plan and implement the ambitions of the strategy. Of particular note is the focus on the new BIK+ strategy at this year’s Safer Internet Forum, taking place on Thursday, 27 October in hybrid form. See the save the date below for further information.
More generally, keep an eye on the section dedicated to the BIK+ strategy on the BIK portal for further updates and developments.