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Stirring night-time outdoor ads portray the harsh reality on children’s phone screens

Finland’s largest child welfare organisation published an outdoor ad campaign to remind parents and adults of the content children see when browsing their phones, especially at night.

The campaign consisted of billboards disguised as a child’s screen recording a continuous stream of disturbing and violent images, including cyberbullying and war. Highlighting the harsh reality that children can face on their phones, the ads were displayed only at night in Helsinki, Finland, because that is when children are most likely to use their phones without adult supervision.

The aim of The Mannerheim League for Child Welfare’s campaign is to support parents in media education for children. According to a Pew Research Centre survey (2020), a majority of parents of children aged 11 or younger are concerned that their child is being exposed to inappropriate content online. 59 percent of US parents were concerned about their child accessing violent content online, and 56 percent were concerned about their child being bullied or harassed online*.

‘Digitalisation has revolutionised our world, for better and for worse. Media is intertwined with children’s lives, where for example the internet, social media and games are part of their environment. A child has the right to safety in digital environments as well,’ says Paula Aalto, The Mannerheim League for Child Welfare’s Head of School Cooperation and Digital Youth Work.

TBWA\Helsinki, the creative partner in the campaign, discovered an approach that allowed drawing attention to the time of day, when children are most likely to use their phones without adult supervision or support. Thus, the outdoor ads are visible only at night.

‘Children are at their most vulnerable during the night. We created billboards that are active from 12:00 am to 2:00 am, displaying a stream of images that depict cyberbullying, nudity, war and violence. It effectively reminds us, adults, about the availability of illicit online content to our children. We purposely hid the content of the billboards from the public – this became the core of our message. These images were too frightening to show, yet they are the harsh reality our kids are exposed to when we aren’t watching,’ says TBWA’s Creative Director, Joni Furstenborg.

Adults are the solution

The association does not blame adults or technology, but supports parents in educating their children about media.

‘It is understandable that parents cannot constantly monitor their child’s phone use. However, as adults, we are the solution to protecting our children from inappropriate content. By developing our own media literacy skills, we also know how to act if a child has seen something scary or inappropriate on their phone,’ says Aalto.

The Mannerheim League emphasises that providing support entails exploring media together, achieving joint successes and being present and genuinely interested in our children’s lives. Constant communication with the child on and off screen is of the utmost importance.

‘As a parent myself, I am concerned about my own children’s media use on their phones. Children are constantly exposed to harmful content and parents must protect them from seeing things that they do not have the ability to process due to their young age. We, parents, are the solution,’ Furstenborg ends.

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