The internet, mobile phones and other technologies are transforming children’s lives. Ofcom’s latest research indicates that 5-15 year olds now spend more time online than in front of a TV set.
These technologies offer great opportunities for children including new ways to learn, play and keep in touch. At the same time parents worry about what their children are exposed to, and it’s harder to supervise children’s internet use when it takes place on mobile phones and tablets away from the family living room.
Protecting children from harmful or inappropriate material is one of Ofcom's most important duties and a role they take very seriously. Cathy Taylor from Ofcom explains how the organisation does it.
1. What are the rules for online content?
The rules are different depending on whether content is broadcast as a scheduled programme on a channel like BBC1  and ITV or watched on demand, through a catch-up service like All 4 or Amazon Prime. One of the reasons for this is that watching a catch-up programme involves a positive choice by the viewer, rather than watching whatever happens to be being broadcast at that time.
There’s a whole section of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code dedicated to protecting children from unsuitable content on TV and radio, including restrictions before the 9pm watershed – a protection measure widely used by parents and carers. Our rules cover content such as offensive language, violence and dangerous behaviour, and sexual material. If a television channel is streamed over the internet, these rules can apply.
Most content appearing online is watched ‘on demand’. The video on demand rules apply to services like ITV Hub and Amazon Prime, and also UK-based adult services online. The rules protect children from the most harmful material – they restrict access to hardcore pornography to adults only, and don’t allow any material which would incite hatred, or which would be banned on video. There are also rules which help children to distinguish between advertising and programme content.
2. Knowledge is power!
Ofcom has a statutory responsibility to promote media literacy, and we think that information and education are key to children’s safe use of the internet. Every year Ofcom conducts research that gives a wealth of information about children’s and parents’ changing use and understanding of media. This November we have published our 2016 report Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes, along with two other reports, Children’s Media Lives and Children’s Digital Day.
Ofcom’s research helps us regulate online television and video on demand. But it’s also a source of information for parents and industry. We work with lots of great organisations providing information for children, parents and teachers. For a series of advice guides for parents and carers see this section of our website.
3. A coordinated approach
As a member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS), Ofcom has been involved in some important industry-led initiatives to address online risks. We’ve monitored the roll-out of family-friendly network-level filtering and the use of these filters continues to rise. We also worked with industry to produce a child safety guide for providers of social media sites.
4. How do I complain about online content?
If you or your child has watched a television or on demand programme online which you think is inappropriate, you can complain to Ofcom here.
 Ofcom is the communications regulator in the UK, looking after the TV, radio and video-on-demand sectors, as well as fixed-line telecoms, mobiles and postal services, plus the airwaves over which wireless devices operate.
At the moment the BBC is largely self-regulated by the BBC Trust and its executive board, with a fraction of the regulation done by Ofcom.
In March 2016, The Clementi report recommended that Ofcom should be the sole regulator of the BBC.
In May 2016 a government white paper on the BBC outlining plans to hand over regulation of the BBC to Ofcom.
In the meantime, for details on how to complain about BBC content go to BBC Complaints or Ofcom.
The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or CEOP.