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BBC Own It – Could This App Protect Young Smartphone Users from Themselves?

November 1, 2019, 8:55 GMT+1
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  • How a new BBC-developed mobile app is looking to change children’s early experiences with smartphones for the better
BBC Own It – Could This App Protect Young Smartphone Users from Themselves?

The day a child receives a smartphone to call their own is a watershed moment. Opinions will differ as to when that moment should arrive, but the chances are good that a healthy proportion of children within your school will have a smartphone of one sort or another that belongs to them.

Whether their phone travels with them to school or not, what they do with that phone while at home can have a significant impact on their behaviour in the classroom and the playground – from staying up late to play games, to combative social media exchanges that translate into arguments at break time.

To help tackle the kind of difficulties that can accompany children’s first steps into the online world, the BBC has launched a new wellbeing app by the name of ‘Own It’. Once installed, the app steps in to offer pop-up behavioural nudges and suggestions when a young smartphone user’s behaviour seems to stray outside of the norm, or when they appear to lose composure.

Contexts in which the app will be triggered include the composing of messages containing certain negative words and sentiments, and times when it appears the user may be about to share their mobile number via a social media platform. Own It will also serve up ‘snackable’ information tips concerning smartphone use late at night, and the implications this can have for their wellbeing.

The app will also serve up specially commissioned content from the BBC’s Own It information portal, including informative resources intended to help young people make the best possible use of their time online and develop healthy online habits. One of the app’s broader aims will be to encourage children and parents to have open discussions about online experiences, but the BBC stresses the app itself won’t pass any direct reports or feedback to parents, and has even stated that no data relating to the app’s activity will leave the device.

According to the BBC’s Director-General, Tony Hall, “Ensuring children have a happy and healthy relationship with the internet is an increasingly important issue of our time. The internet is a powerful force for good – but the truth is it wasn’t set up for children. Everyone understands the problem. It’s now time to act on a solution. The time for debate is over. We must act for the wellbeing of children, to reduce cyberbullying that can destroy lives and to give children the skills to thrive safely in the online world.”

Among those expressing support for the app has been the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield OBE, who said: “I greatly welcome this new app, a genuinely thoughtful and clever attempt to build emotional resilience and children’s wellbeing in the digital world. I particularly like that it uses tools and techniques that are familiar to our children, but at the same time doesn’t encourage them into the very behaviours we’re all trying to teach children to avoid.”

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