OECD Protecting children in the digital age

Children today are spending more time online and engaging with the digital environment through various devices. Recent estimates suggest that one in three Internet users is a child and that children in Europe spend between 134 and 219 minutes a day online. The effect of rapid technological developments on children underlines the need for policy to keep pace.

In response, the OECD adopted the Recommendation on Children in the Digital Environment.

The Recommendation:

  • Sets out principles that require children’s empowerment to achieve inclusive and equitable digital access and multi-stakeholder engagement.
  • makes recommendations to governments on their overall policy frameworks, calling for coherent and evidence-based policy responses, effective legal measures, and the promotion of digital literacy as an essential tool.
  • Emphasises the importance of international cooperation, calling for strengthening global and regional networks and developing shared statistical frameworks.
  • includes separate guidelines for digital service providers with four areas for action:
    • a) adopt a child-safe approach when designing or delivering services.
    • b) ensure adequate information and transparency through clear, simple, and age-appropriate language.
    • c) establish safeguards and take precautions regarding children’s privacy, data protection and commercial use of such data; and
    • d) demonstrate governance and accountability.

The OECD tries to balance the opportunities and risks for children of a changing digital environment.

Opportunities/benefits range from performing tasks, such as research or school, to more complex activities, such as entertainment, communicating with friends and family, and expressing their creativity in increasingly diverse ways.

However, there are also risks, such as sexting and fake news or cyberbullying, which have changed in scale and nature.

This rapidly changing landscape has led the OECD to recently revise its Typology of Risks (January 2021), which identifies four main categories of risks (contact, content, conduct, consumer) and three cross-cutting risk areas (health and well-being; privacy; advanced technology risks).