Fourth Industrial Revolution

A Lego game is helping children learn digital empathy skills

image of Lego bricks

Lego have released an online game designed to teach kids about empathy and safety. Image: Unsplash/Xavi Cabrera

Emma Charlton
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • The pandemic has meant increased screen time for children.
  • Nearly two-thirds of 8-12 year-olds have been exposed to one or more forms of cyber risk, according to one recent study.
  • Lego has teamed up with a think-tank to develop an online game to teach kids empathy.
  • The World Economic Forum is also working with governments to help embed safety functions.

A superhero quiz designed to educate children about online empathy and safety has been developed by toy company Lego and think-tank DQ Institute. The game invites kids to “become an online hero” and asks players to respond to a series of situations before revealing their online personality.

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At the end of the quiz, kids are revealed to be one of four cyber superheroes: Sir Hug-A-Lot (personifying empathy), Butterclops (representing self-awareness), AeroVision (who acknowledges the perspectives of other people) and Admiral Highfive (a character who talks about being kind online).

image of a Lego quiz
Which safety superhero are you? Image: Lego

“We know children learn best when they are playing,” said Kathrine Kirk Muff, VP of Social Responsibility at the Lego Group. “We are uniquely placed to help them explore important topics like digital empathy in a playful and memorable way.”

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Making the internet safer

The game was developed for Safer Internet Day, an annual day that promotes responsible, respectful, critical and creative use of digital technologies, particularly among children and young people.

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Concerns about screen time have long been front of mind for parents and, for many, those have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, as schools shut and lessons moved online. A survey conducted in the US found that nearly half of American children spent more than six hours a day in front of a screen, a 500% increase on the time spent online before lockdown.

Most of that time was spent on YouTube, Netflix and TikTok, the survey showed.

While this greater usage does bring benefits – like connectivity and access to educational tools – it can also foster risks. Nearly two-thirds of children aged between eight and 12 have been exposed to one or more forms of cyber risk, including cyberbullying and inappropriate content, according to the DQ Institute.

2020 Child Online Safety Index
A new report from the DQ Institute highlights the need to protect children online. Image: DQ Institute
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What is the Forum doing to improve online safety?

The scope of the illegal content and activity was laid bare in a recent UK government report. According to the research, 69 million images and videos related to child sexual exploitation and abuse were referred by US technology companies to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2019. Further statistics reveal that images depicting children being sexually abused are also increasing.

Pandemic pushes people online

With online lessons and screen time set to stay, even as children return to school, the focus is on how to equip children and parents with the right knowledge and tools to use the internet responsibly.

“COVID-19 has highlighted the benefits of technology to help us stay connected to one another and enable critical functions, such as student education,” the World Economic Forum’s experts said. “Nevertheless, it has also resulted in a proliferation of child sexual abuse material, health misinformation and content encouraging self-harm. Now is the time for an acute focus on improving the digital safety for children online.”

The Forum’s digital safety project focuses on developing solutions to the issue. It focuses on three pillars: Content Moderation, Regulation and Liability, and Business Models and Competition. The Forum also works with technology pioneers to foster industry collaboration on key issues like content moderation. One of the 2020 pioneers, Two Hat, classifies, filters, and escalates nearly 100 billion human interactions a month, including messages, usernames, images and videos, to surface cyberbullying, abuse, hate speech, violent threats and child exploitation.

image of the Lego character 'Captain Safety'
Captain Safety encourages children to take action if they experience or witness online bullying. Image: Lego

The Lego initiative underscores how communicating these issues to children in a fun and accessible way is as important as carrying out the overt work to mitigate risks.

And the teachings of the game go beyond online, encouraging children to think about how they handle themselves in situations that “aren’t that cool”. Captain Safety – the Lego digital safety hero – has lessons that could apply to all areas of life.

“It’s never cool to be mean to others, even if it is just a joke,” says Captain. “You wouldn’t like it if it were you.”

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Fourth Industrial RevolutionEmerging TechnologiesWellbeing and Mental Health
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