How digital natives use the Internet

Ofcom’s Media Literacy report, released in Oct 2012, reveals an interesting picture of children’s use of the Internet.

According to the report, many parents readily admit that their children know more about the Internet than they themselves do – from 22% of parents of children aged 5 to 7 years old, all the way up to an impressive 67% of parents of children aged 12 to 15s. That’s two-thirds of the parents of older children! And, apparently, they have good reason to say so: 54% of older children know how to delete their online history and 22% know how to disable online filters or controls.

So, how do these digital natives use the Internet?


Internet access

Children 5 to 15 years old now have nearly universal access to the Internet at home: 82% on average (95% for the 12 to 15 years old range). 9% of children in this age gap do not use the Internet at all, and the remaining access the Internet somewhere not at home. Even young children, aged 3 to 4 years old, access the Internet: 37% at home, 4% at nursery, 1% elsewhere.

No particular socio-economic group is more likely than the rest not to use the Internet at all. Though there are differences among the groups in terms of where or how they access the Internet.

Time spent online

Not only are more and more children going online, but they are spending more time than ever on the Internet, as well – this is in contrast with watching television, which has remained stable since 2007.

The amount of time spent online increases with the age of the child – children aged 12 to 15 years old now spend as much time per week using the Internet as they do watching television. There are no marked differences by socio-economic group or gender.

Online activity

Children aged 5 to 7 years old use the Internet mostly for games, followed by homework and access to avatar sites. Children aged 8 to 11 years old use the Internet mostly for homework, followed by games and information search. Older children, 12 to 15 years old, use the Internet mostly for homework, followed by information search and social networking. That is gaming is very popular among younger children, with homeworking and information search taking over for older ones. There are some differences in activity across socio-economics groups, and marked differences between boys and girls, as illustrated by Figure 1.


One third of children claim to use the mobile phone and/or the television and/or the Internet, simultaneously, most of the time. That is, they multitask across the various devices, at home. Multi-tasking increases with age, and girls are more likely than boys to do so.

Social networks, too, are increasingly popular among the digital natives. 22% of children aged 8 to 11 years old and 80% of 12-15s have an active social networking profile. 26% of older children have set up a Twitter profile. This finding is particularly relevant when we consider that social networks are a key determinant in children’s consumption habits, as I discussed here.

Older children are also the most likely to have been involved in ‘creative and civic activities’ such as uploading photos to a website (56%), creating an avatar (34%), creating and uploading a video to a website (22%), setting up their own website (12%), signing an online petition (9%) and expressing their views, online, about political or social issues (9%). Again, there are some (but few) differences between socio-economic groups, whereas there are marked differences between girls and boys (the former being more likely than boys to engage in ‘creative and civic activities’ online).

Children of all ages are increasingly likely to watch user generated content online.

Devices used

PCs and laptops are the devices most widely used to access the Internet. However, increasingly these are being supplemented (or replaced?) by smartphones and tablets.

Mobile phones are the third most popular device to access the Internet (after laptops and desktops). This growth is mostly driven by older children: 28% of all children own a smart phone, 62% of 12 to 15 year olds). This is the device that 15% of girls in this older age group are most likely to use to go online at home.

The proportion of all children using a tablet computer at home has nearly trebled from 5% in 2011 to 14% on 2012. For 4% of 5-7 year olds, 3% of 8-11s and 3% of 12-15s mostly access the Internet at home via tablets.

These are just some of the highlights of the Ofcom report, as far as Internet literacy is concerned. The report considers other media, as well, and can be accessed here.

While some of the findings may not be particularly surprising – for instance, that children spend more time online and that they increasingly use mobiles and tablets to access the Internet – others are fascinating. For instance, judging by the range of online activities displayed in figure 1, the Internet has permeated most areas of these youngsters lives: work and leisure, content consumption as well as production.

And do you make of the small differences between socio-demographic segments? Does this mean that the Internet a truly equalising medium? Or are the apparently small differences the beginning of a widening gap?

And what about the differences between gender? Some may be stereotypical – e.g., multitasking – but others reveal a really interesting picture of the technology allowing the users to express themselves in new ways.

8 thoughts on “How digital natives use the Internet

  1. Ana

    Thanks for capturing this and for sharing the report on twitter within minutes of it being published.

    Some of the data should be frightening – but it isn’t – the writing has been on the wall for some time and this report evidences the digital changes in a new generation.

    Some signals were weaker in the data – the use of tablets was small – but the growth was rapid. Given a family purchases and uses ‘tech’ in cycles – maybe 2-3 years for a laptop – we can say there is a mild lag but I expect tablets to dominate consumption of UGC and media. The price point is now low – there are no barriers – lets accept the world is now mobile and the mouse is dead.

    Also in the report there was a curiously high amount of DVR-R devices in kids bedrooms. I do wonder whether this is because the devices give a wow experience or because they compensate for a digital divide where bandwidth-limits mean poor access to content. Or is it the importance of IRL social networks where people share DVD’s or mashups after a torrent download?

    As a kid I would make up C90 cassette mixes for friends and ‘prospects’ – I wonder if the DVD-R is filling that human need to curate and share content for this generation?

    Im excited for the future – but make no assumptions – only seek enquiry and good evidence like in this report.



    1. Not really minutes – more several weeks… but, hey, some things should not be rushed, right?!

      I, too, thought that tablet use would be a bit higher. But the absolute number is dwarfed by the growth rate. That one is truly impressive. I am curious to see what the numbers will look like in the next report.

      Your interpretation of the DVR-R devices is an interesting and, as always, quirky one. Mine was very different. I thought that, as families upgrade their DVR-Rs – e.g, to Blu-ray – they might move the previous one to the children’s bedroom, rather than try to sell it second-hand or throw it away.


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