Byron Commission (UK) report – initial thoughts

by on March 27, 2008 · 0 comments

The long-awaited final report of the UK’s Byron Review on Children and New Technology is finally out. It is called Safer Children in a Digital World. It focuses on the benefits and risks associated with the Internet and video games. I will be posting more about the specifics in coming days, but the general thrust of the report–at least from the executive summary–looks quite good. Here’s a few key quotes:

* Technology offers extraordinary opportunities for all of society including children and young people. The internet allows for global exploration which can also bring risks, often
paralleling the offline world.

* “New media are often met by public concern about their impact on society and anxiety and polarisation of the debate can lead to emotive calls for action.” … “Debates and research in this area can be highly polarised and charged with emotion.”

* “I propose that we seek to achieve gains in these three areas by having a national strategy for child internet safety which involves better self-regulation and better provision of information and education for children and families.”

* “We need to take into account children’s individual strengths and vulnerabilities, because the factors that can discriminate a ‘beneficial’ from a ‘harmful’ experience online and in video games will often be individual factors in the child. The very same content can be useful to a child at a certain point in their life and development and may be equally damaging to another child.”

I like the focus on education and parental oversight that I see in the report. Here’s a particular good recommendation that closely parallels what I have called for in my own work:

* We can use these findings to help us navigate a practical and sensible approach to helping our children manage risks. This is no different to how we think about managing risk for children in the offline world, where decreasing supervision and monitoring occurs with age as we judge our children to be increasing in their competence to identify and manage risks. So, when we teach our children to cross the road safely we do it in stages:

> We hold their hand when they cross the road.

> We teach them to think, look both ways and then cross.

> When we see that they are starting to understand this we let them cross walking beside us, without holding on to them.

> Eventually we let them do it alone, maybe watching from a distance at first, but then unsupervised.

> And throughout this, the environment supports them with signs and expected behaviour from others in the community – the green man, zebra crossings, speed limits and other responsible adults.

This is very much in line with the “educate & empower” focus of many past child safety reviews here in the States.

Of course, there are 200 pages more for me to get through, so I will need to review the details to see what they look like. More later.

Update: I think this paragraph on pg. 17 of the report makes an essential point:

“Deciding what is inappropriate is subjective and based on many factors including the age, experience, values, belief systems and culture of the person making that decision. Some behaviours that take place on the internet, such as children’s exploration to do with sexuality, may be considered inappropriate or even delinquent by an adult, but can play an important role in the young person’s development. So what might be offensive for one person may be empowering for another.”

Indeed. This is the “eye of the beholder” point I always try to make in all my work about content regulation. As the old saying goes, ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’

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