BBC launches 'digital wellbeing' Own It app for children

  • Published
Sample Own It screenshot
Image caption,
The app will offer advice alongside the text and messages children type

The BBC has created a "wellbeing" smartphone app called Own It aimed at children.

It monitors how young people interact with friends and family online and through messaging apps.

It uses AI to evaluate a child's mood so it can offer advice or encourage them to talk to trusted adults.

The app is designed to offer help and support especially if children are about to share sensitive data or send an upsetting message.

"The digital world is a fantastic place for people to learn and share, but we know many young people struggle to find a healthy online balance, especially when they get their first phones," said Alice Webb, director of BBC Children's, in a statement.

Ms Webb said the app would act as a "helping hand" to guide children into developing good habits when using their first phone and avoid some of the potential pitfalls of digital life.

The app is built around a special software keyboard that pops up when kids type messages and monitors the tone of the words being typed and language used.

The Own It app also has its own content that aims to help children manage the amount of time they spend looking at their screen and passes on other advice about responsible online interaction.

The BBC said the app would also regularly encourage children to talk to parents and guardians about good and bad online experiences and their phone use.

The app has no reporting system that parents can consult to oversee phone use, said the BBC.

Online risks

The app would be "warmly welcomed" by some parents, said Prof Sonia Livingstone, a social psychologist from the London School of Economics who heads the EU Kids Online project which researches the digital diets of younger people.

Image source, Instagram
Image caption,
Instagram has also put in place tools to help combat bullying

Prof Livingstone, who has seen demonstration versions of Own It, added: "Based on my research on children's online risks and opportunities, I think it should be very helpful for children, especially younger ones, and ideally would also stimulate constructive conversations between children and parents."

She said one of the "strengths" of the app was the effort it took to protect a child's privacy. This stood in contrast to other apps that many parents use to monitor and control their children's online lives.

However, said Prof Livingstone, there were likely to be limits on its usefulness for some young people.

"The challenge will be to get it to the children who are more at risk online," she said.

The Own It app began development in 2018 and has drawn on input and support from many different child-focused charities and welfare groups.

Partners include the Mental Health Foundation, the Anti-Bullying Alliance, the NSPCC, the Diana Award and Childnet.

The app is being launched against a background of research which shows how concerned some parents are about phone use among their offspring.

One study published in August suggests half of all UK parents want mobiles banned in schools to help regulate use.

Separate studies suggest teenagers are not damaged by prolonged screen use but official advice in the UK says parents should tell children to put down their devices in the hour before bed.