We are living in an extraordinary time as human beings, for adults and children alike. Digital technology in general and the Internet in specific have completely revolutionized our way of life. There is almost not a single aspect of our lives left untapped by the direct or indirect effects of technology. Apart from all the benefits, this unprecedented time has brought serious challenges for our younger generation who is now called Gen Z.
Unlike their parents, Gen Z have not seen a world without technology. The generation before Gen Z, those born in the 1980s, witnessed the world in both before and after the spread of technology. They remember how the world was like without much digital connection and the time Personal Computers (PCs) entered offices and then homes. In comparison, Gen Z are born into the world with gadgets and smartphones. They will likely not feel what their parents went through. They cannot imagine a time when people, for instance, had to stand in a queue to make a 2-minute phone call in a phone booth. UNICEF has a new name for this phenomenon; they now call it “the new generation gap”.
Despite many merits technology has brought, there are challenges too. In particular, there are 3 areas where the previous generation(s) must be careful with: parenting, education, and freedom of information.
Simply put, the current method of parenting is already obsolete. Parents cannot exert full digital control over their children similar to the way their own parents used to do because most children now have their own PC and/or their own smartphones. The Internet, or at least a new form of technology, is available for them at home, at school, or even at their friends’ house. On top of it, parent-child learning interaction is doing a 180-degree turn! There are cases where parents ask for help from their children to do something online. This is unprecedented as it had been always the opposite. Fathers used to teach their sons, and daughters used to learn from their mothers.
Education is likely to be next. In previous generations, the teacher and course books were the main, if not the only, source of reliable information. That is no longer the case. As the presence of the Internet grows stronger every day, teachers do not have that unique power. Every student can use his/her smartphone to search Google for the information they need to learn at school. The reliability of that information is yet to be determined, but teachers are no longer the sole source of information for students today.
Freedom of Information (FOI), also known as Right to Information, is a human right. It is categorized as a part of freedom of expression, Resolution 59 of the UN General Assembly, 1946, as well as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). This applies to our children too. They have the right to use every bit of information available at their disposal. However, this means children have access to a variety of information types. The majority of the information available on the internet is not created to be suitable for children. What’s more, businesses create their websites assuming that their users are adults. This shows how adults undermined this important matter for their children.
You may find the complete list of children’s digital rights here.
In the eyes of many parents, teachers, or even employers, technology has been regarded as a Time Thief. So far, many parents severely limited their children on their use of TV, computers, and of course game consoles. Teachers prohibited any use of computers in classrooms, and employers asked their colleagues not to answer their cellphones at work. This is the picture we used to have. Contrary to that, the new generation, our children, will live in an environment where they are encouraged to be friendly with technology and employ it to be more productive. Digital literacy is an essential part of any curriculum and a great factor for finding a better job in the future.
Digital literacy is indeed for the betterment of children. What if the acquired knowledge is used in bad ways? This calls for actions on 3 levels: parents, companies, governments.
Parents need to first improve their current level of digital literacy. A father who does not know what apps are good for his children is likely to take extreme actions. He either acts aggressively and takes any digital tools away from his children, or acts loosely and lets his children find out what is best for them all by themselves. If parents do not have time, or will power, to educate themselves, they need to seek experts’ consultation. It is such an important matter in the parent-children relationship that any delay is likely to yield catastrophic outcomes.
Companies also need to adopt meaningful approaches. For now, there are businesses that only serve 18-year-olds and older. They either show a checkbox which says: “I confirm that I am 18 years of age or older”, or a simple Yes/No question appears before entering the website. It is only the facade though. Their system is not necessarily designed to prevent children’s access to their website’s content; in fact, such businesses are protecting their own interests. It is not important for them if the user is below or above 18 years of age; they want to make sure if, one day, one of their users turns out to be under 18, their business is legally protected by showing the user’s own statement that he/she is above 18.
Last but not least, governments are required to work on the legal aspects. Children’s digital rights may be the beginning, but there are other legal acts to protect children and keep them safe in the digital world. Holding businesses accountable is also an important duty of governments.
Children’s Digital Right is a new concept. The real effects of exposing children to the digital world is something we are yet to determine. Sadly, the hidden problem is that the previous generations do not know what they actually need to know about children’s digital rights. This is a relatively new phenomenon and is being carefully developed by UNICEF. For the time being, Atea’s version of children’s digital rights is the best one available. However, knowing the rights is merely the very first baby step towards a full-blown protection for the children in this digitalized world. The question of the child’s digital protection remains an important one with multiple unknown aspects and challenges to overcome.