Ofcom have just published the latest in a series of annual reports on how children (5 – 15) use and think about TV and online media, and how their parents and carers attempt to police it. The picture that emerges is of digital media playing an increasingly important part in the school and social lives of children, while their parents (half of whom admit their kids know more about the internet than they do) make a gallant attempt to keep up.
Particularly striking is the fact that, for the first time since the annual studies began in 2006, 12 – 15 year-olds have declared that they would miss their mobile phones and the internet more than television. Even so, TV remains the main media time-sponge amongst 5 – 15 year olds overall, at an average of 17 and a half hours a week – two hours up on 2007. Second-choice media activity varies, with younger children preferring computer games, while older children browse, do homework, and Facebook. 12- 15 year olds are now online for the best part of 16 hours a week.
While Google is the most used website across the group as a whole, social networking becomes increasingly popular the older the child. Membership of sites such as Facebook at 54% is about the same amongst 8 – 15 year olds as it is amongst adults in general. For 12 – 15 year olds, it’s a passion – three in four being active users. Life in the digital playground is not without its negative side, naturally. Malicious gossip, embarrassing photographs, impersonation, being picked on – it’s not all sweetness and light online. One in five 12 – 15 year-olds reported personal experience of this kind of thing in the past 12 months.
In spite of the fact that a minority of respondents admitted to risky behaviour (e.g. divulging their profile to contacts they had only met online) 88% of 5 – 15 year olds were confident they know how to stay safe. Their parents, as a rule, concurred with this view. 79% pointed out that staying safe online was something their children learned to do at school, and most of them had clear rules about their children’s use of TV and media – including an increase in the direct supervision of such use amongst some parents. The report concluded, however, that many parents could do more to use the technical controls available to them (such as internet filters and PIN controls for TV) alongside discussing do’s and don’ts with their children. They might have to learn more about the internet first, of course…
What does all this mean for marketing? In spite of the growth of online as an advertising medium, concerns about television still dominate much of the controversy about marketing to children, as I have discussed elsewhere. The increasing amount of commercial presence online, not only in terms of content but also in how that content gets filtered and made available to users, affects not only adults but, increasingly, children. The 2011 Ofcom report reveals that parents are concerned about their children’s exposure to inappropriate content and behaviour on television and digital media. Perhaps we should be doing more to ensure that parents and children can also recognise and respond appropriately to commercial activity online?