Why children spend time online

Children’s online time has settled at just over two hours per day, as a new study by Ofcom uncovers the reasons young people are drawn to video services such as Netflix and YouTube.

Ofcom 2019

  • New research explains how YouTube taps into kids’ interests

  • ‘Live’ TV remains important for family time

  • Children are finding it harder to manage their screen time – but many say they achieve a balance


  • Children in the UK (aged 5 to 15)[1] now spend around 20 minutes more online, in a typical day, than they do in front of a TV set – just over two hours online, and a little under two hours watching TV – according to Ofcom’s annual study of their media use [2]. Two children looking at television and computer screens.

    While children’s online time stopped growing for the first time in 2018 – estimated at an average of 2 hours 11 minutes per day, the same as the year before – their average daily TV time has fallen year on year by almost eight minutes, to an estimated 1 hour 52 minutes.

    YouTube remains children’s primary online destination, with 80% having used it. Nearly half (49%) of children, and a third (32%) of pre-schoolers aged 3-4, now watch subscription on-demand services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Now TV.

    Among those who watch both YouTube and TV programmes on a TV set, nearly half of ‘tweens’ aged 8-11 and older children aged 12-15 (49%) prefer watching content on YouTube. However, more than a third get the same enjoyment from both viewing experiences.

    Children’s preference for watching programmes on TV versus YouTube videos (2017/2018)

    Ofcom Graphic



    Life on the small screen

    To help understand why children are drawn towards online content, this year Ofcom has undertaken a detailed qualitative study of children’s viewing.

    A panel of 40 boys and girls, aged 4-16, from around the UK, offered in-depth data, seven-day diaries and interviews on what they were watching and why. The study revealed powerful preferences for choice, control and a sense of community. It found that:

  • YouTube dominates, followed by Netflix. Children in the study overwhelmingly preferred watching YouTube (almost all children watched it daily) and Netflix, to any other platforms [3].
  • Live TV is parent-led, and often reserved for family time. Most of the children in the study watched live, scheduled TV, though only a small number did so daily [4]. Live TV viewing was often convened by parents, allowing the family to come together to watch soaps, quizzes or ‘appointment viewing’ such as Strictly Come Dancing or The X-Factor. Some children used live TV to fill time, often while they were doing something else such as eating dinner.
  • Choice and control. Many children said they valued YouTube and Netflix for offering instant control over what they are watching, and access to seemingly endless, personalised content. Children appreciated the platforms’ content recommendations and valued receiving notifications from the channels they subscribed to. Some preferred to watch content privately, whether this be on their personal devices or in their bedrooms.
  • Children turn to YouTube for three things. The study found most of the children’s viewing on YouTube fell into three broad categories [5]:
    1. Hobbies and passions. Lots of children watched videos related to their offline interests – such as tutorials to further their passion for music or football. Some experienced similar gratification watching others participating in hands-on activities – such as arts and craft, or playing sport – to the extent that they said they no longer took part in these activities themselves in the ‘real world’.
    2. Vloggers and community. Many children watched ‘vloggers’ or YouTubers, often connecting with them through a shared passion such as sports or crafts, and enjoying becoming part of their ‘follower’ community. Lots of the children said they looked up to their favourite vloggers as role models, or regarded them as a friend who could provide support or advice. This type of content also appealed to children’s natural curiosity about other people’s ‘normal’ lives; they felt the videos had an authenticity which made them easy to relate to.
    3. Sensory videos. Many children enjoyed videos which included ‘satisfying’ noises – such as other people making and playing with slime, or opening presents. Such videos are described as ‘Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response’ – due to their ability to generate a feeling of well-being and relaxation among some people.

    Yih-Choung Teh, Strategy and Research Group Director at Ofcom, said: “Children have told us in their own words why online content captures most of their attention. These insights can help inform parents and policymakers as they consider the role of the internet in children’s lives.

    “This research also sheds light on the challenge for UK broadcasters in competing for kids’ attention. But it’s clear that children today still value original TV programmes that reflect their lives, and those primetime TV moments which remain integral to family life.”

    Managing screen time

    Ofcom’s national, quantitative research also finds that older children are finding it harder to control their screen time than they were last year. Stats on children owning mobile phones and tablets. Image shows two children in bed looking at screens.

    The proportion of 12-15s who agreed they found it difficult to moderate their screen time has increased to a third (35%), up from a quarter (27%) the year before. Seven in ten older children (71%) are allowed to take their mobile phone to bed.

    But in spite of these challenges, around two thirds of 12-15 year olds (63%) considered they ultimately achieved ‘a good balance between screen time and doing other things’.Ofcom graphic 2

    Quantitative research: Ofcom’s Children’s Media Use and Attitudes report 2018 - based on around 2,000 interviews with children and parents nationwide. 2018 data collected from 1,430 interviews with parents of 5-15s and children aged 8-15, along with 630 interviews with parents of children aged 3-4.

    Qualitative research: Revealing Reality Life on the small screen: What children are watching and why (PDF, 6.1 MB) - 40 children and young people aged between 4 and 16 took part during winter 2018. Respondents were from a range of locations across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Each child completed a seven-day media diary. Objective data, including ‘watch histories’ and app usage statistics, was also collected from devices. Finally, researchers spent time in each household conducting interviews.

    1. Unless otherwise specified, the data cited for ‘children’ relates to youngsters aged 5-15.
    2. When making comparisons across media, as is the case here, it is worth bearing in mind that there will be a degree of overlap between these estimates and some of these activities may also be undertaken simultaneously. Watching TV on a TV set will include watching live broadcast TV as well as on-demand or subscription services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. Going online could include playing games online, going on social media or watching videos online.
    3. Out of the 40 children in the study, 37 and 16 watched YouTube and Netflix respectively every day.
    4. Out of the 40 children in the study 35 watched live TV and 10 watched it every day.
    5. Ofcom’s quantitative data also shows that particular types of content on YouTube have grown in popularity among 5-15 year olds since 2017: ‘How to’ video tutorials about hobbies or sports (from 40% to 45% in 2017 and 2018 respectively watch this type of content), videos featuring vlogger personalities (32% to 41%) and ‘unboxing’ videos where toys are unwrapped or assembled (21% to 25%).
    6. In July 2018, Ofcom published an update on our review of children’s content. This identified a lack of original, high-quality programmes specifically made for older children, a limited range of programmes that helped children understand the world around them and allowed them to see themselves and their lives reflected on screen. We have asked the commercial PSBs – Channel 4, Channel 5 and ITV - to develop plans to address these concerns by spring 2019. We expect these plans to demonstrate how they will reach children across their full range of services and platforms, and they will exploit the internet, to take account of the changes in viewing habits and preferences of younger audiences.

    Written by Safeguarding Essentials on January 31, 2019 11:57

    Older children are getting wise to fake news

    Highlights from the latest Ofcom, Children and Parents Media Use and Attitudes Report 2017


    Ofcom Fake NewsOlder children are less trusting of news on social media than from other sources, and employ a range of measures to separate fact from fiction, Ofcom research has found.

    More than half (54%) of 12- to 15-year-olds use social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, to access online news, making it the second most popular source of news after television (62%).

    The news that children read via social media is provided by third-party websites. While some of these may be reputable news organisations, others may not.

    But many children are wise to these risks. Just 32% of 12- to 15-year-olds who say social media is one of their top news sources believe news accessed through these sites is always, or mostly, reported truthfully, compared to 59% who say this about TV and 59% about radio.

    Nearly three-quarters (73%) of online tweens are aware of the concept of ‘fake news’, and four in ten (39%) say they have seen a fake news story online or on social media.

    The findings are from Ofcom’s Children and Parents Media Use and Attitudes Report 2017. This year, the report examines for the first time how children aged 12 to15 consume news and online content.

    Filtering fake news
    The vast majority of 12-15s who follow news on social media are questioning the content they see. Almost nine in ten (86%) say they would make at least one practical attempt to check whether a social media news story is true or false.

    The main approaches older children say they would take include:

  • seeing if the news story appears elsewhere (48% of children who follow news on social media would do this);
  • reading comments after the news report in a bid to verify its authenticity (39%);
  • checking whether the organisation behind it is one they trust (26%); and
  • assessing the professional quality of the article (20%).

    Some 63% of 12- to 15-year-olds who are aware of fake news are prepared to do something about it, with 35% saying they would tell their parents or other family member. Meanwhile, 18% would leave a comment saying they thought the news story was fake; and 14% would report the content to the social media website directly.

    But some children still need help telling fact from fiction, almost half (46%) of 12-15s who use social media for news say they find it difficult to tell whether a social media news story is true and 8% say they wouldn’t make any checks.

    Emily Keaney, Head of Children’s Research at Ofcom, said: “Most older children now use social media to access news, so it’s vitally important they can take time to evaluate what they read, particularly as it isn’t always easy to tell fact from fiction.

    “It’s reassuring that almost all children now say they have strategies for checking whether a social media news story is true or false. There may be two reasons behind this: lower trust in news shared through social media, but the digital generation are also becoming savvy online.

    Children’s online lives
    More children are using the internet than ever before. Nine in ten (92% of 5- to 15-year-olds) are online in 2017 – up from 87% last year.

    More than half of pre-schoolers (53% of 3-4s) and 79% of 5-7s are online – a year-on-year increase of 12 percentage points for both these age groups.

    Much of this growth is driven by the increased use of tablets: 65% of 3-4s, and 75% of 5-7s now use these devices at home – up from 55% and 67% respectively in 2016.

    Children’s social media preferences have also shifted over recent years. In 2014, 69% of 12-15s had a social media profile, and most of these (66%) said their main profile was on Facebook. The number of 12-15s with a profile now stands at 74%, while the number of these who say Facebook is their main profile has dropped to 40%.

    In contrast, Snapchat has rapidly grown in popularity among this ‘tween’ group. More than three in ten (32%) say it’s their main social media profile, up from just 3% in 2014.

    Though most social media platforms require users to be 13 or over, they are very popular with younger children. More than a quarter (28%) of 10-year-olds have a social media profile, rising to around half of children aged 11 or 12 (46% and 51% respectively).

    Awareness of the required minimum age is low among parents. Six in ten parents of children who use Facebook (62%), and around eight in ten parents of children who use Instagram or Snapchat (79% and 85%) either didn’t know there was an age restriction, or gave the incorrect age.

    Many parents choose not to apply minimum age limits. Among parents of children aged between 5 and 15, over four in ten (43%) said they would allow their child to use social media sites ahead of them reaching the minimum age required.

    One reason for this could be that nearly all parents of 5-15 year olds (96%) say they mediate their children’s use of the internet. This includes having regular conversations with their child about online safety, using technical tools such as network-level filters, imposing rules about internet use, or directly supervising their child. Two in five parents (40%) use all four methods.

    More parents of children aged 5 to 15 are using network-level filters at home – 37% did so last year, nearly twice the level in 2014.

    Aside from social media, one of the primary online destinations for children of all ages is YouTube, with eight in ten (81%) children aged 5 to 15 regularly using the website to watch short clips or programmes.

    Among older children, YouTube is the most recognised content brand; 94% of 12-15s have heard of it compared to 89% for ITV, 87% for Netflix, and 82% for BBC One and Two.

    Negative online experiences
    Half of children (49%) aged 12 to 15 who use the internet say they ‘never’ see hateful content online. But the proportion of children who have increased this year, from 34% in 2016 to 45% in 2017.

    More than a third (37%) of children who saw this type of content took some action. The most common response was to report it to the website in question (17%). Other steps included adding a counter-comment to say they thought it was wrong (13%), and blocking the person who shared or made the hateful comments (12%).

    Media lives by age: a snapshot
    Ofcom Media Lives by Age



  • Written by Safeguarding Essentials on December 21, 2017 09:53

    Online overtakes TV as kids’ top pastime

    The internet has overtaken television as the top media pastime for the UK’s children.

    Ofcom Report 2016
    Ofcom’s report on Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes, published recently, reveals that children’s internet use has reached record highs, with youngsters aged 5-15 spending around 15 hours each week online – overtaking time spent watching a TV set for the first time.



    Even pre-schoolers, aged 3-4, are spending eight hours and 18 minutes a week online, up an hour and a half from six hours 48 minutes in the last year.

    According to Ofcom’s data, children aged 5-15 have increased their weekly online time by an hour and 18 minutes in the last year to 15 hours.

    In contrast, children are spending less time watching a TV set, with their weekly viewing dropping from 14 hours 48 minutes in 2015 to 13 hours 36 minutes in the last year.

    YouTube is one of the most popular online destinations for children to watch content, with around three quarters (73%) of those aged 5-15 using the video site. It is also a hit with pre-schoolers with 37% regularly watching YouTube videos, who typically pick ‘TV content’ such as cartoons and mini-movies.

    And older children are beginning to show a preference for YouTube with four in ten 8-11s and 12-15s saying they prefer watching YouTube than the TV set.

    Despite this, Ofcom’s research shows that TV still plays an important role in children’s lives with nine in 10 still watching, generally every day, and the largest number of children watching at peak family viewing time, 6 – 9pm.

    Digital childhood
    Digital devices are more widespread among children than ever, including the very young. Today’s research finds that a third (34%) of pre-schoolers (aged 3-4) own their own media device – such as a tablet or games console.

    Pre-schoolers typically enjoy digital entertainment on a tablet, with more than half (55%) using one, and 16% owning their own tablet – up from just 3% in 2013.

    As children reach pre-to-early teenage years, they prefer smartphones to tablets – with the proportion of children owning one up from 35% to 41% in the last year. This means one in three tweens (8-11s), and eight in 10 older children (12-15s) now have their own smartphone.

    As children spend more of their time online, their awareness of advertising and ‘vlogger’ endorsements has also increased with more than half of internet users aged 12-15 (55%) now aware that online advertising can be personalised - up 10 percentage points in the last year. And, 12-15s awareness of product endorsement from vloggers has also increased by 10 percentage points to 57% in 2016.

    But, many children still 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.

    Book at bedtime
    Despite the importance of digital devices in children’s lives, Ofcom’s Digital Day research, also published recently, shows that reading is the third most popular activity with primary school aged children (62%) beating newer activities such as watching online video clips (47%), instant messaging (10%) and watching music videos (11%)5.

    Staying safe online
    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 or nasty.

    Parents of older children are most likely to be having these types of conversations with their children, with 92% of parents of 12-15s saying they have spoken to their child about online safety, an increase of six percentage points since 2015.

    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. Two in five parents use all four approaches.

    And, parents of children aged 5-15s are more likely to use network level filters in 2016 - up five percentage points to 31%7.

    On 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 parents of children of the same age (65%), believe this balance is about right.

    Jane Rumble, Ofcom Director of Market Intelligence said: “Children’s lives are increasingly digital, with tablets and smartphones commanding more attention than ever. Even so, families are finding time for more traditional activities, such as watching TV together or reading a bedtime story.”

    Click here to download the full Children and Parents: media use and attitudes report

    Ofcom Online versus TV

    Written by Safeguarding Essentials on November 24, 2016 11:32


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