One of the topics I cover with great interest, as a journalist and as the father of two sons and a daughter, is « children and the digital worlds ».
The Digital Worlds can bring content of great value to the lives of our kids. For example, the Internet provides immense quantities of useful information.
But the Digital Worlds, as the mirrors of human activities in the real world, can be the places of unwanted encounters. A child who isn’t seeking objectionable content can come across it inadvertently or someone may deliberately force such content upon him.
That is the reason why I published a book in 2004 entitled « Children in front of the screens: pornography, the real violence », with a preface by Dr. Aldo Naouri, a famous French pediatrician.
After this publication, I was part of the French Government’s Interdepartmental Working group on Internet and Kids’ Safety, in 2005.The written contribution I prepared within the framework of this working group was: « Filtering software and parental control: an incentive for the development of 100% reliable products ».
In December 2006, I sent a letter to the 577 French MPs asking for a better protection of children online. After reading my mail, four MPs immediately requested clarification from the Head of the French Department in charge of Family Policy (ministre de la Famille).
In January 2007, I gave a lecture before the Head of the French Department in charge of Youth and Sports (ministre de la Jeunesse et des Sports): « Is there an impact of pornography on young people? « .
In June 2007, I submitted various proposals for a safer Internet to the Unit E-6 (eContent and Safer Internet) of the Directorate-General for Information Society and Media of the European Commission.
In January 2008, I published a book entitled « The 90 questions all parents are asking themselves about mobile phones,the Internet, video games… » to help families with the uses of online technologies by children (see http://www.nosenfants.fr – it’s in French, sorry!). As far as I’m aware of, this book is unique in France: it is the only one to address all aspects of new technologies and to give parents easy to implement pieces of advice.
In this book, I raise, among other issues, a problem that concerns all families, worldwide: the control tools currently available to families are not powerful enough.
In July 2008, I created a Linkedin group about kid’s safety in the digital worlds (see http://www.kids-safety-in-the-digital-worlds.com/).
In August 2008, I met with an adviser of the Head of the French Department in charge of Family Policy (ministre de la Famille) to ask for a better protection of children online.
In March 2009, I met with a French MP to ask for a better protection against overtaxed SMS: in France, adolescents are easily misled by television, ads on TV, radio or in newspapers, which propose them to send overtaxed SMS from their mobile phones to support their preferred candidates, to buy new ringtones or to know the names of their next gril/boy friends.
As the legal information (cost of service, number of SMS messages to send…) are running very fast or written in so small letters that they are barely readable, adolescents do not realize what they spend: until € 3 surcharge per SMS (plus SMS cost charged by their mobile operators).
These services represent a real windfall for the publishers and for the mobile operators (in 2008, they have received more than 261 million euros) and important expenses for families.
I want French MPs to force mobile operators to offer families a free option to block the sending of overtaxed SMS.
In March 2009, I created a Linkedin group about Digital and Screen Literacy for Children (see http://www.digital-literacy.info ).
Digital and Screen Literacy is the ability to use new technologies (computer, mobile phone, the Internet, video games, virtual worlds…) to locate, organize, understand, evaluate or create information and videos.
Digital and Screen literate children will be able to communicate and work more efficiently on the Internet and in a world of screens.
I was drawn to digital and screen literacy from watching children: when they use a search engine to find information on the Web, the first results they look at are the links containing videos, then the ones with pictures; the ones which are text only are looked at last. And when they are as young as eight or nine years old, they make videos, which they upload on Youtube.
That’s just the beginning. Everywhere we look, we see screens. Digital-display manufacturers produce one new screen each year for every human on earth. With the advent of electronic ink, screens will be on any flat surface. The tools (cameras, softwares…) for screen fluency will be built directly into these ubiquitous screens.
Our children need to be prepared for a new culture: new distribution-and-display technologies are pushing books aside and catapulting images to the center of the culture.
Digital and screen literacy should be defined as teaching children to communicate visually but also to be skeptical about sources of information online. The goal is no less than defining education in the digital and screen age.
Children will have to be screen fluent. They will communicate not just with words, but also visually. They need to master the tools of creation (megapixel phone cameras, Photoshop, iMovie), which are quickly reducing the effort needed to create moving images. The ease of making video now approaches the ease of writing.
Children will have to view media critically, in order to defend themselves against the powers of advertising, manipulation, and political persuasion… In an increasingly visual world, anyone with a laptop, Web connection and camera can be a producer of media. As moving images become easier to create, easier to store, easier to annotate and easier to combine into complex narratives, they also become easier to be manipulated by the audience. Children need to understand how what they see and watch is created (and can be manipulated) as much as they need to understand plain old reading, writing and arithmetic.
At the invitation of parents associations, local administrations, associations for the defense of children and social organizations, I have given about seventy lectures for the parents on the theme of children and the new technologies.