This week Ofcom’s annual report, Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes, shows that children’s internet use has reached record highs, with 5-15 year olds spending around 15 hours per week online, overtaking time spent watching TV for the first time.
YouTube is regularly visited by 73% of those aged 5-15 and 37% of those younger. Four out of ten 8-11s and 12-15s say they prefer YouTube to TV. TV still plays an important role in children’s lives with 9 out of 10 watching, generally every day, mostly from 6-9pm.
Digital devices are more widespread among children than ever, including the very young. A third of pre-schoolers now own their own media device, such as a tablet or games console. Pre-to-early teenage years prefer smartphones, with ownership growing to 41% from 35%. One in three tweens (8-11s), and 8 in 10 older children (12-15s) now have their own smartphone.
With more time spent online, awareness of advertising and ‘vlogger’ endorsements has also increased. For those aged 12-15, awareness of product endorsement from vloggers also increased by 10 to 57% this year. Still, many children need help to identify advertising on search engine Google, with only a minority of 8-11s (24%) and 12-15s (38%) correctly recognising sponsored links.
Regarding safety, more than nine in ten children aged 8-15 have had conversations with parents or teachers about being safe online, and would tell someone if they saw something they found worrying. Nearly all parents (96%) of 5-15s manage their children’s internet use in some way, through technical tools, talking to or supervising their child, or setting rules about access to the internet and online behaviour. Parents of children aged 5-15s are more likely to use network level filters in 2016, up 5 to 31%.
For the most part, families are in agreement that their child has a good balance between screen time and doing other activities. Most children aged 12-15 (64%), and their parents (65%), believe this balance is about right.
The challenges of an increasingly digital world are clearly not going to go away. It is crucial that we teach our girls to aim for balance: between screen time and other activities; between opportunities and risks afforded by the internet; between solitary occupation and time spent with family and friends. We need to teach them to use the internet safely and confidently; we need to encourage them to be discerning about what they read online and we need to remind them regularly of the pleasures of reading books. Above all, we need to keep talking to them about their use of media, both at school and at home.