Smartphones and Apps Have Replaced the Game Boys and Saturday Morning Cartoons of Our Childhood, Says Ofcom

By Shabana Arif on at

Seems like Ofcom is stating the obvious here, but a lot of kids have smartphones, and - like the rest of us - they use them for all of their content consumption needs.

Gone are the days of stumbling down the stairs in your PJs, grabbing a bowl of cereal, and plonking yourself down in front of the TV to watch your favourite shows on one of a handful of channels. Now you can lounge around in bed and catch up with anything and everything before you've had your morning cuppa, and when you give your kid a smartphone, you're giving them the okay to do that too.

According to Ofcom's annual Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report 2019 [PDF], half of 10-year-olds in the UK own their own smartphone which they're using to hammer YouTube content. The kids aren't interested in on-demand services like Netflix because they clearly have no taste yet. Instead, kids between five and 15 are opting for YouTube. But they're not all clueless, with more children watching video-on-demand (VOD) rather than live broadcast TV, with the viewership doubling over the past five years. One in four little tykes don't watch live broadcast TV at all, which seems perfectly normal to me, a person who is also in that category. It's archaic. I want to watch what I want, when I want. The logic checks out.

Online gaming is also becoming more prevalent, and while boys are more likely to be playing them than girls, the latter group is showing growth with the number of girls playing games online increasing from 39 per cent in 2018, to 48 per cent last year. The stat for boys has stuck at 71 per cent. That does come with its downside though, with boys more likely to experience bullying during online gaming sessions - although that might be the nature of the beast rearing its head here. We've all played online and know what people can be like. If there's more boys than girls in that environment, they're going to be exposed to it with more frequency.

That's a concern for parents who are obviously worried about their kids being bullied (39 per cent), and also say there's pressure on their children to make in-game purchases (47 per cent). The past five years has seen a increase in in-game and game-related purchases which extends to the scourge of loot boxes. Despite being aware of these factors, these adults seem woefully unaware of parental controls on the tablets, smartphones, and whatever other internet-connected devices they're allowing their kids to have access to, with less than half of them realising that these settings even exist and only a fifth having actually tinkered with them.

In the same breath, parents are voicing concerns about their sprogs seeing potentially harmful content online, with half of 12 to 15-year-olds saying they've seen 'hateful content'. Perhaps before giving your kids unfettered access to literally anything and everything they could possibly think of and then some, you should take as much care with ensuring their online safety as you would in real life. The world is a very different now to the one we grew up in, and as Ofcom points out, children experience the same level of social pressure online as they do in 'real life'. It is their 'real life' in instances where they're not being monitored and can log on willy nilly.

The report makes for an interesting read, especially if you're raising little humans. But the takeaway is be aware of what your kids are doing online and learn about and implement parental controls if you're not already doing that. [Ofcom via BBC]

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