Over half (60%) of 9-16 year olds go online either daily or almost daily. 66% of 3-5 year olds can play basic games online, according to a survey of ten countries by AVG. As children’s access to the internet steadily increases, there is also a growing consensus that young children in particular should be protected from strangers online… but does that extend to strangers trying to sell them toys and candy?
Are young children particularly vulnerable to the influence of advertisers? Or is it better for parents to simply teach children to be more critical? Furthermore, online advertising is a significant and growing industry in Europe (worth €27.3bn in 2013), at a time when the EU arguably needs all the economic growth it can get. Would such a ban damage a successful part of the economy?
As part of our Debating Europe Schools series, we’ve been taking questions from students from across Europe to policymakers and experts for them to answer. For today’s debate, we had questions sent in from students from the University of Leipzig, Germany, and the Debating Society of St. George’s International School, Luxembourg.
Curious to know more about the online advertising and legislation about advertising to children in Europe? We’ve put together some facts and figures about children and advertising in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).
Should some, or all, online advertising aimed specifically at young children be banned? To get a response, we spoke to Jonathan Kent, journalist and founder of Leave Our Kids Alone, a campaign calling for a ban on all advertising (not just online advertising) targeted at children under 11 years old. Why does he support a ban?
Because children’s brains and personalities are more fluid when they are young [and this] makes them more susceptible to advertising. They don’t have the mental toolset that older children and adults have to filter out things which are obviously wrong, and this makes them especially vulnerable to advertising.
I think it is true in most areas of Europe that, as a society, we are increasingly concerned about who comes into contact with our children… Yet advertisers do not act in the best interests of the people they are advertising to. They act in the best interests of the people who pay them to advertise stuff. That’s completely right and proper; if I pay somebody to do a job for me, then I want them to work for me. But it also means we are letting people come into contact with our children who really have no particular interest in our children’s well-being, but rather a commitment to sell their client’s stuff.
To get another perspective, we also asked Stephan Loerke, Managing Director at the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), to respond to the same question. What would he say?
Next, we had a comment sent in by Dianta, a student from the University of Leipzig in Germany. Dianta argued that young children have regular access to the internet via smartphones etc., and asked whether policymakers should therefore consider introducing classes at primary school level to raise awareness among students about privacy and online advertising. How would Jonathan Kent respond?
Absolutely. I think Dianta has a point, and I think it’s a very important one. Increasingly, these are life skills and, more broadly, I would like to see schools concentrating more on preparing students for life and not just for work…
Instead of just learning economic skills, students need to learn how to look after themselves, whether it is looking after their privacy on the web, or whether it is eating properly, exercising and so on, or expressing themselves creatively. It’s all part of a vital skill-set. So, yes, I would be very supportive of Dianta’s suggestion!
Finally, we had a comment sent in from a student from St. George’s International School in Luxembourg, asking whether the EU is proposing any specific legislation or guidelines on advertising aimed at children. We asked Stephan Loerke to reply:
Should online advertising aimed at children be banned? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!