The commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood

Posted on 05 June 2013

We have recently seen the publication of the 18 month progress report of the Bailey Review.

Reg Bailey’s 2011 review, Letting Children be Children, set out a number of recommendations for businesses, regulators and the Government, to protect children from excessive commercialisation and premature sexualisation.

The recommendations covered a range of things, from sexualised on-street advertising to age ratings for music videos. The key recommendations around the internet were about making it easier for parents to block adult and age-restricted material from the internet, as well as a number of recommendations about new digital marketing techniques, and helping parents to make reports to regulators.

So 18 months later, has progress been made?

In a word, yes. But as the review highlights, there is always more to be done.

The four main internet service providers (BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media) now provide free parental controls for all customers, and actively ask all new customers to decide whether they want parental controls. They are increasingly reaching out to existing customers to ensure they are aware of these tools.

Childnet, in its role as the UK Safer Internet Centre, teamed up with the four ISPs and have created “how to” video guides to help parents set up parental controls offered by their internet provider.

As the report explains: “These four ISPs, together with Everything Everywhere, have gone further still, committing to provide whole-home filtering solutions to protect all devices in the home and will make setting up internet controls an unavoidable step for parents. If parents choose not to engage with that step (for example, if they just repeatedly click ‘yes’ to get through set-up quickly) then that would lead to protection being on rather than off. The ISPs have made a commitment to put in place appropriate measures to ensure that the person setting up parental controls is over 18.”

The review said ISPs aren’t the only businesses with a role to play here, and that there are roles to play for all the ICT industries, including retailers and device manufacturers. At Childnet we will to continue working with all of those providing internet services to ensure that parental controls are available, easy to use and that users are aware of them.

Raising parental awareness is crucial

“By continuing to focus on supporting parents to do their job, I believe we can all make sure that children are allowed to be children” Reg Bailey

Like the video guides we created with the four ISPs, others are working to increase parental knowledge in other areas:

  • ParentPort was set up to help parents find out how to make a complaint about something they felt was inappropriate for a child, either in a TV programme, on the internet, or perhaps in a film, advert, video game or magazine.
  • A Digital Adwise Parent Pack has been created by Media Smart (commissioned by Industry bodies, the AA, ISBA and the Internet Advertising Bureau) to help parents understand online advertising techniques.

It is encouraging to reflect on the steps taken, but there will always be more to be done

“Children’s use of the internet is an absolutely critical area where they encounter both the commercial world and the pressures towards premature sexualisation. Whilst recognising the progress that has been made by many businesses in developing a range of tools and techniques to help keep children safe online, we also recognise that the internet is a constantly growing and evolving environment, with huge amounts of content added every day. People will continue to find new ways to use, and abuse, the communication possibilities the internet offers. Therefore, we need to be constantly active in ensuring the approach to child internet safety evolves and grows too.” (p 19, Letting Children be Children: Progress Report).

This isn’t the end of the road - considering the commercialisation and sexualisation of children and young people online must continue to remain on the agenda. The Children’s Commissioner has recently released a report about the impact of pornography on children and the National Association of Headteachers has found that parents want schools to teach children about pornography. It is important that teachers are continued to be supported fully to fulfil their role in helping children navigate the online world safely. Additionally, our own research shows that for both primary and secondary aged children, parents are most often the people they are turning to for help with their online lives. It is therefore equally important to also ensure that there are tools and resources to support parents in helping their children to take part in the online world safely.

At Childnet we will continue to educate and raise awareness, and develop internet safety resources, drawing on the experience of the children and young people we work with in schools as well as their parents and carers, as well as working with industry to help ensure clarity for all users in using the safety tools and features that they provide.

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