Children's mobile phone use declines for first time since 2005

ISBA has welcomed the publication of a new Ofcom report on children's media use, which found the number of children who own a mobile phone is declining for the first time since 2005.

Children online: laptop, netbook and desktop computer use is falling
Children online: laptop, netbook and desktop computer use is falling

The advertisers’ trade body said the report would give parents a deeper understanding of their children's attitude to media with the industry body's director of public affairs, Ian Twinn, praising its "firm evidence".

The 'Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report' has unveiled that the number of children who own a mobile phone is going down, as youngsters reject basic handsets and increasingly turn to tablet computers to access the internet.

For the first time since the survey began in 2005, the overall number of five- to 15-year-olds who own a mobile phone has fallen – from 49 per cent in 2012 to 43 per cent in 2013.

Ofcom said this was mainly because the proportion of younger children (eight- to 11-year-olds) who own a basic mobile phone – as opposed to a smartphone – fell steeply to 15 per cent, from 28 per cent in 2012.

Among this age group, 18 per cent own a smartphone and the same proportion own a tablet computer. While the smartphone figure is largely stable year on year, tablet ownership has grown four-fold among eight- to 11-year-olds since 2012 (from four per cent).

The study also uncovered that younger and older children have different priorities when it comes to connected devices.

Among older children (aged 12 to 15), smartphones remain more widely used than tablets. Around three in five (62 per cent) own a smartphone – unchanged since last year – but 26 per cent now own a tablet computer, up from just seven per cent last year.

Twinn, said: "As advertisers, parents and citizens we all like to think that we know how children as young as three relate to the ever-changing media environment. No mean feat. At least now we have some firm evidence."

The regulator said tablet computers are growing fast in popularity, becoming a must-have device for children of all ages. The use of tablets has tripled among the five to 15 age range since 2012 (42 per cent, up from 14 per cent), and one quarter (28 per cent) of infants aged three to four now use a tablet computer at home.

Similarly, tablet usage is rising rapidly among five- to seven-year-olds (39 per cent, from 11 per cent last year) and eight- to 11-year-olds (44 per cent, up from 13 per cent).

At the same time, more traditional devices are being used less to go online, with the proportion of children mainly using a laptop, netbook or desktop computer falling to 68 per cent – down from 85 per cent in 2012.

Twice as many children as last year are mainly using other devices to go online, with tablets (13 per cent) and mobiles (11 per cent) the most popular choices.

Around one in five eight- to 11-year-olds (17 per cent) now say they mostly use the internet in their bedroom, up from 12 per cent in 2012, according to the Ofcom report.

More than four in ten (43 per cent) of parents of five- to 15-year-olds who use a home PC, laptop or netbook to go online say they have some kind of parental controls in place. A similar proportion (44 per cent) say safe search settings are set, and 19 per cent say they have the YouTube safety mode enabled. Less than one in 10 (eight per cent) say they have set a pin or password on broadcasters’ websites.

Although 18 per cent of internet users aged 12-15 say they know how to change online filters or controls, considerably less (six per cent) say they have done so in the past year.

One in four parents (24 per cent) of five- to 15-year-old internet users is concerned about cyberbullying, while one in seven (14 per cent) say they are concerned about their child cyberbullying somebody else.

The mix of social media used by children is evolving. While nearly all 12- to 15-year-olds with an active online profile continue to use Facebook (97 per cent), they are now less likely to have a profile on Bebo (four per cent, down from eight per cent last year) and more likely to have a profile on Twitter (37 per cent, up from 25 per cent).

Twinn said it was "encouraging that more parents are aware of the minimum age requirement of Facebook", which currently stands at 13 years old.

Of the report he said: "This is an impressive undertaking, the more so as it is published together with the data underpinning the analysis. I expect we will keep finding insights for some time to come."

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