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?
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.
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.
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.