The most important thing to parents is to protect children from seeing harmful content, at all costs.
It’s not as simple as that.
- Parents want a system that protects children from harmful content. But they also want to give them the freedom to explore and learn and grow.
- Parents want a system that allows them some control over what their child can see and do. But they don’t trust that all children have parents who would use that control responsibly.
- Parents want to be able to take action to make children safer online. But want to do something that doesn’t take lots of effort to set up or maintain.
This is what we learnt from engaging with 50 parents/guardians and children/young people across four different countries, as part of the euCONSENT project.
Parents were concerned about what their children could see and do online and wanted access restricted to upsetting or unhealthy content, products and interactions. So, in theory, they welcomed the idea of an effective age verification system and parental consent process.
At the same time, many parents acknowledged that it’s through new experiences and exploration that children learn, and, for older children especially, there’s a need to balance oversight with giving young people space, privacy and independence. Many saw maturity as subjective and not something that directly correlates with age.
In short, they wanted to make their own decisions about what their child can or can’t do, based on what they think is best for their child.
However, this was in tension with parents/guardians being sceptical of how responsible other parents/guardians would be.
And in terms of practicalities, it was clear that many parents/guardians weren’t thinking about how age verification and consent processes would impact their day-to-day lives. Adults defaulted to thinking that children/young people would need to prove their age, but didn’t consider that they would have to do this too. When prompted to think about this, some were frustrated to think that children’s restrictions might restrict their own activities. There was also a general consensus among participants that they wanted to verify age or give consent as little as possible and not every time they accessed a site or platform with an age restriction.
So, yes, parents want a system that protects children from harmful content, but not at the expense of other factors that are important to them.
How do you address these tensions? It’s not easy. That’s the challenge for euCONSENT and the wider age verification ecosystem.