NEWS4 February 2020

Children’s digital independence driven by mobile

News Technology Trends UK Youth

UK – Children are becoming more digitally independent at a younger age and parents are more likely to talk to children about their online safety, Ofcom’s latest Children’s Media Use and Attitudes research suggests.

Child on phone

The annual study from the media regulator found that half ( 50%) of 10-year-olds own their own smartphone – up from under a third ( 30%) in 2015 – and that smartphone ownership doubles between the ages of nine and 10. By age 15, 94% of teens have their own smartphone, up from 83% in 2015.

The proportion of 5-15 year-olds using a mobile phone to go online also increased (from 50% in 2018 to 55% in 2019 ), with children now as likely to use a phone to access the internet as they are to use a laptop.

Over half ( 55%) of parents of children aged 5-15 feel that the benefits of their child being online outweigh the risks – but this has decreased in the past five years, as two-thirds ( 65%) agreed with this in the 2015 research.

Parents’ confidence in keeping their child safe online declines as their child gets older and gains independence, the research found – 81% of parents of 5-7 year-olds feel they know enough to do this, compared to 74% of parents of children aged 12-15.

Similarly, parents are less likely to agree that their child has a good balance of screen time and other activities, the older their child gets.

Ofcom’s Media Lives research found that half ( 51%) of children aged 12-15 had seen ‘something hateful’ about a group of people online in the last 12 months – for example, based on gender, religion, disability, sexuality or gender identity – an increase from 34% in 2016. Children who had experienced this were more likely to ignore it than not ( 58%), with 39% saying they took some form of action.

There has been a slight increase in the number of parents talking to their children about online safety, however – 85% said they discuss it, compared to 81% in 2018. The research also suggests that parents are more likely to seek support and information about this issue ( 21%, up from 12% in 2018 ).

Yih-Choung Teh, strategy and research group director at Ofcom, said: “Today’s children have never known life without the internet, but two million parents now feel the internet causes them more harm than good.

“So it’s encouraging that parents, carers and teachers are now having more conversations than ever before with children about online safety. Education and stronger regulation will also help children to embrace their digital independence, while protecting them from the risks.”

Ofcom’s report is based on 3,500 interviews with children and parents. 2019 data was collected from 2,343 interviews with parents of 5-15s and children aged 8-15, and 900 interviews with parents of children aged 3-4. Children’s Media Lives qualitative research, conducted by Revealing Reality, looks at how a sample of 18 children, aged eight to 18, think about and use digital media.