If you haven’t already heard, last week Taiwan amended the Protection of Children and Youths Welfare and Rights Act to include regulations on the use of electronic devices by children under 18. Basically Taiwan is trying to limit the amount of time children spend on ‘screens’ by threatening to fine parents up to $1595 if their children’s use of electronic devices “exceeds a reasonable time”. The specifics are left vague at best. A “reasonable time” is never numerically defined, and there has been little mention of how the government plans to enforce this law but it has been globally interpreted as harsh and excessive. Many are saying that by including this regulation in the Protection of Children and Youths Welfare and Rights Act, the government is comparing the use of screens to addictive substances like drugs and alcohol.
Of course, the revision to the act has caused quite an uproar, especially among Taiwanese citizens, expressing a “reasonable” (whatever reasonable might come to mean) feeling that the Taiwanese government might be crossing the line with their involvement in family life. Now despite what some of my friends say, I am not the biggest Luddite on the planet. In fact I spend the majority of my day on Facebook and I don’t think it’s a bad thing, so bear with me when I say this next part: Perhaps the Taiwan Lawmakers have the right idea.
Remember this gem?
The inclusion of screen time into the act, at the very least, gets parents thinking about how much time their kids spend on the screen and maybe, about what they’re seeing during that time. It often feels like we’re so worried about how social media might stunt children’s social development and there is a lot of hysteria over digital media’s ability to influence Youths’ behavior regarding sex and violence but very little attention is paid to their exposure to advertisements. Think about it, people everywhere are trying to reverse the effects years of marketing have had on our self-esteem (via magazines, television, etc.), heck even the effects it’s had on our parents’ self-esteem. Meanwhile, online marketing is everywhere. Kids today are getting at least double the exposure to ads than we had when we were kids. Advertisements are all over the screen. On Facebook profiles and homepages, before games on the phone or tablet, they are found in everyday conversation through trends and hashtags.
Sure, children under 13 aren’t supposed to be using sites like Facebook, so we have some way of limiting their exposure at an earlier stage …except we all know that’s not true. Kids under 13 are all over Facebook and nowadays some parents go as far as creating accounts for their babies before they’re even born. We know this, Facebook knows this, and so do marketers.
So kids today are exposed to more ads and ads that are targeted specifically to their individual interests based on their logged use of the internet.
I wouldn’t go as far as perhaps the Taiwan Government and compare the use of digital media to drug or alcohol use but come on, there is a reason a lot of these sites use blue colour schemes. These sites are designed to keep people scrolling (and staying online) for as long as possible and they’re hoping they can throw as many ads at you as possible. You, kids, everyone. I don’t believe in censorship and besides, unless we introduce some crazy and also peaceful global governing body to monitor the internet, it is somewhat impossible to make the internet completely ‘safe’ or even within “reason”.
I do believe we have some sort of duty, at the very least, to be weary of exposure to so many ads at such a young age. Rather than fall on a tirade against internet content, monitoring children’s use seems like a better alternative. Not the best alternative. I should mention, a lot of schools in Toronto for example, teach Media Literacy to children at a young age (at least schools with the funds/means) and this is probably a more effective way to combat the potential dangers of constant online advertising but I don’t believe this new law is the worst thing to happen to human rights. At least not so far…