More teenagers say they would miss their mobiles and the internet than watch TV

25 October 2011

  • But TV viewing is still growing, with children watching more TV than ever
  • 95 per cent of 12-15s now have access to the internet at home
  • Social networking is being driven by smartphones

For the first time 12-15s say they would miss their mobile (28 per cent) and the internet (25 per cent) more than TV (18 per cent), according to new Ofcom research.

However, they are also watching more TV than ever before, with viewing figures increasing by 2 hours since 2007. In 2010 children aged 4-15 watched an average of 17 hours and 34 minutes of TV per week, compared with 15 hours and 37 minutes in 2007.* Nearly one third (31 per cent) of children aged 5-15 who use the internet at home are watching TV via an online catch-up service on their PC/laptop, such as the BBC iPlayer or ITV Player.

Ofcom's research also reveals that more than nine out of ten (95 per cent) 12-15 year olds now have internet access at home through a PC or laptop, up from 89 per cent in 2010 and 77 per cent in 2007.

Mobile social networking increases among 12-15s

Social networking is still one of the most popular uses of the internet amongst 12-15s, although the number of children with social networking profiles has stayed static since 2010 at 3 per cent of 5-7s who use the internet at home, 28 per cent of 8-11s and 75 per cent of 12-15s.

However, children are visiting social network sites more often on their mobiles, driven by the increase in smart phone ownership. Half (50 per cent) of 12-15s with a smartphone visit them weekly compared with 33 per cent in 2010.

Increase in computer and video gaming among 8-11s

While 12-15s are using the internet for social networking sites, 8-11s are more likely to use it for gaming, with 51 per cent saying they play games online on a weekly basis, up from 44 per cent in 2010.

8-11s are also spending more time playing on games players/ consoles compared with 2010 (9 hours 48 minutes - an increase of nearly 2 hours).

Taking computer and video games together, seven in ten (68 per cent) 8-11s say they play games almost every day, up from 59 per cent in 2010.

Television remains the most popular activity among 5-7s

Among 5-7s, almost half (48 per cent) say that television is the medium they would miss the most, compared to 25 per cent naming playing computer/video games, and less than one in ten naming either the internet (7 per cent) or mobile phones (1 per cent). The research shows that 95 per cent of this age group watch TV almost every day, compared to 43 per cent using the internet, and 7 per cent using a mobile phone.

Online safety risks remain

Parents are generally very confident about their children using the internet safely and the vast majority of children aged 8-15 feel that they know how to stay safe online (88 per cent) and that they are confident internet users (97 per cent). However with increasing use of media, there remain some safety issues.

A fifth of all 12-15 year olds said they'd had a negative mobile or online experience in the past year, with gossip being spread (13 per cent) being the most common issue. Girls are more likely to know someone who has had gossip spread about them (44 per cent of girls compared with 29 per cent of boys). A quarter of teenagers (23 per cent) say that they know someone who has been bullied through their mobile phone, rising to 30 per cent of teenage girls.

A substantial minority of children still have social networking profiles which are either open or set to where friends of friends can see it - 28 per cent of 12-15s and 17 per cent of 8-11s.

And 18 per cent of children who play games online play against people they don't know personally, with boys aged 5-15 are more likely to do this than girls (24 per cent compared to 7 per cent of girls).

Increasing parental supervision

However, the research also reveals that in some areas parents of children who use the internet at home are increasing their supervision and protection.

Over half (54 per cent) of parents of 5-15s supervise their child in some way when they're online - up from 48 per cent in 2010. And four in ten (39 per cent) parents say that internet controls or filtering software are fitted, rising to 59 per cent when asked about specific controls such as 'safe search' and YouTube safety mode.

For mobile phones, one in three (31 per cent) parents whose child has a web enabled mobile has limited their access to exclude websites aimed at those aged 18 or over.

Children are also becoming more aware of potential risks, with 12 per cent of 8-11s with a social networking profile saying they talk to people not directly known to them, down from 22 per cent in 2010 (24 per cent of 12-15s, down from 32 per cent in 2010).

And there has been an increase in the use of access controls for multichannel TV via a PIN or password, from 36 per cent of multichannel households in 2010 to 44 per cent in 2011.

Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: "The almost universal use of the internet at home by 12-15s - both for their education as well as their entertainment - is a positive step forward.

"The research also shows that parents and children are increasingly aware of how to be safe when using the internet. But risks do remain. Better understanding - amongst parents as well as their children - is key to helping people to manage content and communications, enabling them to enjoy the benefits of media use while protecting themselves from the potential risks."

pdfFull report [pdf]



  1. * Analysis of children's television viewing habits sourced from BARB, the UK's television measurement panel. On 1 January 2010 the new BARB measurement panel of 5,100 homes went live. Any comparison of trend data using both the old and new panels should therefore be made with caution.
  2. Ofcom's media literacy tracker carried out 1,717 in-home interviews with parents and children aged 5-15 in March and April 2011. The report also contains BARB and Nielsen data, as well as additional research conducted by Ofcom in July 2011 in-home among 1,054 parents of children aged 0-17 and via an online omnibus survey among 768 12-17 year olds.