Ofcom Report Highlights Children’s Digital Habits through COVID-19

The UK communications regulator, Ofcom, has released its annual report on the digital habits and attitudes of children aged 5-15 years. It also covers the media use of 3-4-year-olds as well as parents’ opinions on their children’s digital behaviours.

What is the ‘Children and parents: media use and attitudes report’?

The Children and parents: media use and attitudes report 2020/21 aims to provide a “comprehensive picture” of how our children use and experience the internet. Under the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom has a responsibility to conduct research into media literacy to help improve online skills, knowledge, and understanding.

This year’s report differs from its predecessors because it has covered three national lockdowns. With remote learning affecting children’s digital behaviours, studies like this are more important than ever to recognise digital dangers, understand media experiences, and identify who is being left behind in the online world.

What are the key findings?

Screen time

In 2020, almost all children aged 5-15 years went online and parents acknowledged that they found it difficult to control their children’s screen time during the pandemic. Half of parents felt they had to relax rules around their children’s online behaviours during the pandemic.

Over half of these children access social media platforms, rising to 87% for 12-15-year-olds.

Concerning content

Nine in ten 8-15-year-olds who went online said they would tell someone if they came across concerning content. It is, therefore, absolutely crucial that teachers, parents, and other trusted adults know how to respond to such reports and how to deal with worrying online content.

Over 50% of 12-15-year-olds have had some form of negative online experience. For example, receiving friend requests from strangers (this happened to almost a third of children in this age group).

Online grooming is a serious threat to our children’s physical and mental wellbeing. Unfortunately, online predators have exploited the pandemic to increase their offending, with online child abuse breaking records in 2020.

Online safety advice

Additionally, these 8-15-year-olds also said they had received online safety information: 12-15-year-olds received this from a parent or teacher whereas 8-11-year-olds are more likely to have received this from a parent than a teacher (87% v 80%).

This emphasises the importance of adults keeping on top of the latest online safety risks and advice so that children receive the best possible support. Schools should look to implement a whole-school approach to provide effective guidance on how to stay safe online to mitigate the risks to their students.

Online safety advice from school is more likely to be used by parents in England (68%). National Online Safety is dedicated to making this 100%. Our #WakeUpWednesday guides are published weekly and cover a different facet of online safety each week. These concise, one-page guides are free to download and distribute to the whole school community.

Further, our app provides easy access to our comprehensive range of guides for parents and is completely free to download.

Parental concerns

The main concerns from parents include companies collecting information on their child’s online habits (57%); their child being exposed to content that might encourage them to self-harm or harm someone else (54%); cyberbullying (54%); and the amount of time their child spends online (53%).

Around six in 10 parents are aware of parental controls, however, only a third actually use them.

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