The Right to
Informed and Conscious Use

Children and young people should be empowered to reach into creative places online, but at the same time have the capacity and support to easily disengage.

Attention is the currency of the internet.[1] Many online sites deliberately use ‘reward technologies’ to hold and extend attention and deter users from leaving. Checking for progress in a game, a message or just ‘feeling the need’ to click, contribute to a norm that sees children and young people attached, and often distracted whether in the classroom or the home. Children and young people need to understand that their attention has value, and know the costs of the exchange.

All generations have raised concerns about overuse of emerging media but the immersive, interactive and portable qualities of digital media have fundamentally changed the dynamic between the technology and the user. Not least because all of a young person’s interactions - educational, social, entertainment and news, coexist on the same device. This keeps their attention in constant play. As a result we are seeing children at a developmentally sensitive stage missing sleep and skipping food because of internet use.[2]

Children and young people have a human right to access information, to communicate with others, to participate as social actors and to learn. Access to the internet is essential in fulfilling these rights.[3] Currently available protective software can improve the online experience, especially for younger children, but it can also deny young people valuable access to the digital world by making inaccurate judgements about the nature of particular content or online space.

In order to be true digital participants, children and young people should be encouraged to work, play and participate in the web’s creative spaces and not have their attention held unknowingly.

It must be right that the commercial considerations used in designing software should be balanced against the needs and requirements of children and young people to engage and disengage during a developmentally sensitive period of their lives. It must also be right that safety software does not needlessly restrict access to the internet’s creative potential.


[1] Tim Berners Lee speaking at Web We Want, May 14th , 2014

[2] Smahel D., Helsper, E., Green, L., Kalmus, V., Blinka, L. and Ólafsson, K. (2012) Excessive internet use among European children.                                                                                                                EU Kids Online,London School of Economics & Political Science, London, UK.

[3] United Nations (1989) Convention on the Rights of the Child

Through the eyes of young people:

“What we post online is permanent”

“If we put some immature content online, it could affect our ability to find jobs.”

“Sometimes people don’t think before they act and they can be mean to someone without knowing and wish to take it down later.”