I attended an excellent conference yesterday at the British Library (yesterday was ‘Super Thursday’, the day booksellers rush out titles for Christmas). Organised by The Bookseller, the Children’s Conference looked at the digital landscape for children and considered how this is impacting on print media; the conference had a thoughtful and receptive audience as well as insightful co-speakers. I presented key findings from our Digital Family Kids and Youth research.
It is the season of conferences; last week was the ESOMAR Congress in Amsterdam, where I presented a paper co-written with Catriona Ferris from Unilever on the change in family life in emerging countries such as China and Brazil. In the hotel lift on the way to breakfast on Tuesday I met the conference cartoonist Mark Siermaczeski (crueltyfreecartoons.com) which resulted in a highly entertaining breakfast; he has since sent a cartoon – not bad drawn from memory.
There has been much discussion about the UNICEF Research carried out in the UK, Spain and Sweden, published 14 September. Being qualitative research it inevitably focused on relatively small samples of families (8 in each country) and groups of children (2 groups or depth interviews in 7 schools per country). The report pointed out that families in the UK appear to be more materialistic than in Spain or Sweden. The conference yesterday emphasised the reality of children’s lives today and the place of digital devices, and there was discussion about digital media replacing parental engagement. Parents do feel guilty about the amount of time and the quality of time they spend with their children, but our IKEA Play Report research, carried out with 11,000 parents and children in 25 countries, emphasised how common this is in many countries, and how children do indeed want their parents to spend more time with them. While our Play Report reflects much of what was in the UNICEF research, we did not find that the UK was particularly worse that Spain or Sweden in terms of parental time and feelings of guilt.
At yet another very good conference last week the third wave of the EU Kids Online research was launched at the LSE, London. Sonia Livingstone summed up the findings by questioning a number of myths that abound around children and digital. Included in these was the myth that children are meeting strangers online. This certainly backs up our research; most children are meeting their friends online, and as I have frequently argued, it is those children who are vulnerable in the off-line world who are most vulnerable in the online world. If parents do not have the ability, the time, or the inclination to engage with their children, this can leave their children more vulnerable to becoming lonely and isolated, which in turn might make them victims of unpleasant experiences online. There was a general call for adults – parents, teachers, social workers – to become better clued up about children’s online activity, a point emphasised at yesterday’s conference by Tamara Littleton, CEO of eModeration. Tamara described the work that eModeration does in monitoring websites, and made the point that many responsible social networking sites can do a great deal to protect children and moderate language and behaviour; this must be reassuring for parents.