Why collaboration is key to driving action with child online safety

Brands must do more to ensure children are safe in an ever expanding tech landscape

Lauren Hendry Parsons

Head of Global Communications ExpressVPN


Last month, a new report from the Children’s Commissioner for England revealed that one in 10 children have seen pornography before the age of nine. On top of that it shared that children are frequently exposed to violent and inappropriate content online with often damaging results. For example, children who see pornography for the first time at age 11 or younger are likely to have lower self-esteem as young adults, according to the Children’s Commissioner.

Fortunately, a ruling on the much-anticipated and highly-controversial Online Safety Bill is in sight, having moved to the House of Lords. The Online Safety Bill intends to improve online safety (it’s in the name, but still worth saying), and a recent proposal amendment has found that those tech leaders who fail in their duty to protect under-18s from harmful content could now face jail.

Whilst this may seem like a positive step in the right direction, the reality is that even with legislation and regulation around Child Online Safety, much more is required to drive positive change. Education is a vital missing piece of the puzzle. It’s also the area where brands, advertisers - and parents - can collaborate to tackle this issue. Of course, legislation and regulation are vital components to this effort, but it is fundamental that both parents and children are empowered to feel able to understand and manage risk and therefore develop healthy habits online.

What will effective change look like?

Even if tech giants and social media platforms added more stringent regulations, today’s young people are extremely tech-savvy and could navigate around them. In fact, one third of children aged between eight and seventeen have already set up a social media profile with an adult user-age. 

When children use profiles that portray them as adults, their risk of being exposed to inappropriate content increases. As an example, even if an eight-year-old poses as a thirteen-year-old, within five years social media algorithms will now recognise them as an adult. At this point, the platform will lift protections designed to prevent children from seeing inappropriate content.

We can provide the basics around data sharing and privacy, basic controls and tips to stay safe online for all ages. However, it is only through regular messaging, education and forming good habits that we can drive the necessary changes that will keep parents and children fully informed about the dangers facing them. This will help them make more educated choices when it comes to online safety (and understand why setting up false accounts is a bad idea). 

Campaigns around healthy eating, financial wellbeing and mental health are commonplace due to the dangers it poses to our lifestyle, so why should internet safety be any different? It’s only when we receive consistent advice from trusted sources and our peers - from friends and family, to employers and influencers - that our outlook as a society begins to change. 

Where to start?

We know that enforcing security or surveilling kids doesn’t work. Instead, a fine balance of privacy, oversight and education are imperative to making a difference. These components are also essential in  building trust in children, and helping them to recognise safer ways to navigate the online world. 

Technology should be used to build a foundation, but a whole new skill set is required when growing up in today’s world. This is where we can all play our part in ensuring children are equipped with the knowledge on how to navigate the online world safely and be a responsible digital citizen. For brands and advertisers that are marketing to parents or children, having this information front of mind in messaging and campaigns is a good place to start. We have seen brands including Vodafone, NSPCC and Google making good first steps in the space. 

As an example:

  • Media analysis skills are now as essential as reading and writing
  • Teach young people to question everything – can we trust what we are reading?
  • Who is writing this and why? How is it benefitting them? 

Engendering this skill goes a long way to developing safe and informed online behaviours and practice. Those without this can be easy targets for a host of online dangers including cyberbullying and radicalisation.

Fundamentally, today’s children are quickly growing up with technology, online streaming and platforms are part of their lives before they can even walk as technology has become necessary in the modern world. What this also means is that it's collectively becoming the responsibility of any of us in the tech, digital, advertising and marketing space and every step, no matter how small WILL help move the dial towards healthier online habits. What is the one thing you or your brand can commit to today to make a difference?

Guest Author

Lauren Hendry Parsons

Head of Global Communications ExpressVPN


Lauren Hendry Parsons is Head of Global Communications at ExpressVPN, where she acts as a Privacy Advocate to help people understand the importance of digital privacy and security. She believes that protecting online rights and freedoms has never been more critical and works to empower over 4 million users in 180 countries to take control of their online experience every day. Lauren is also passionate about helping others around her find purpose in what they do, and is an active public speaker and mentor. Lauren has over 15 years of experience in strategic communications, stakeholder engagement, and partnership development across various industries in Australia, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. Lauren trained in Ancient History and Philosophy at the University of Sydney, and is also certified in Advanced Alternative Dispute Resolution.

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