Significant rise in children’s texting and time spent online

23 October 2012

23 October 2012

  • 12-15 year old girls sending more than 30 texts a day - 35% more than boys
  • Threefold increase in tablet use among 5-15 year olds since 2011
  • 97% of parents say they have some responsibility to protect children from  unsuitable TV content

Children are texting and spending more time online than ever before, according to Ofcom's latest annual report on children's media habits.

Texting is most prolific among 12-15 year olds, who say they are sending an average of 193 texts every week. This has more than doubled from 12 months ago, when just 91 were sent; and is almost four times as much as the UK average of 50 texts per week.

Older girls (12-15 year olds) are texting significantly more than boys, sending an average of 221 messages a week - 35% more than boys of the same age, who send 164 a week. The average 8-11 year old sends 41 texts each week, almost double the number (23) sent in 2011.

The new report also reveals the increasing role of the internet in children's lives. For the first time, 12-15 year olds are spending as much time on the internet as they do watching TV. This amounts to an estimated 17 hours a week on each activity.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom's Consumer Group Director, said:

"Ofcom's latest research shows that children's take-up and use of different media is growing at a rapid pace, with some areas such as texting and smartphone ownership fast outstripping the general population. However, children are not just using more media, they are also adopting some forms at a very young age. This highlights the challenge that some parents face in keeping up with their children when it comes to technology and in understanding what they can do to protect children."

Children and smartphones

Children's access to the internet is not restricted to PCs or laptops. Those aged 12-15 are more likely than last year to go online using their mobile phones and are more likely to say that this is the device they would miss the most.

Since 2011, there has been a 50% rise in 12-15 year olds owning smartphone devices. Almost two thirds (62%) of this age group now has one - up from 41% the previous year. This is significantly higher than the UK average for adults of 45%.

Mobile phones are more important to this age group than any other device, even TV. Two fifths (39%) of 12-15 year olds now say they would miss their mobile phone more than any other device, up from just over a quarter (28%) in 2011. Only one in five (20%) said that they would miss TV the most.

Around one in seven (14%) of all children aged 5-15 now use a tablet device at home, a threefold increase since 2011 (5%). Children aged 12-15 are most likely to use a tablet, with 17% saying they do, up from 6% in 2011.

Children and TV

Television continues to play an important role in children's lives, particularly for younger children. It continues to be the media activity that the most children in all age groups say they do almost every day, and the medium that children aged 5-7 and 8-11 say they would miss the most.

The average child aged 5-15 spends an estimated 16 hours a week watching TV. Older children view for longest, with the average 12-15 year old saying they watch 17.3 hours each week. More than a fifth (21%) of children watch television between 21:00-22:00 alone. Among the younger age group (4-9) this figure is 14%; among the older group (10-15) it is a quarter (25%).

However, since 2007 there has been a fall in the proportion of children with a TV in their bedroom - decreasing from 52% to 43% for 5-7s, from 69% to 58% for 8-11s and from 81% to 73% for 12-15s.

The majority of parents are happy with the level of regulation on TV, with three-quarters of parents (77%) agreeing that there is about the right amount.

3-4 year olds

For the first time, Ofcom has researched the media habits of 3-4 year olds. This indicates that many in this age group are using a range of different media devices, including over a third (37%) who are going online using a desktop PC, laptop or netbook. This is possibly to do activities such as look at a website, watch a TV programme or play games online.

One in ten (9%) 3-4 year olds use a tablet at home, according to their parents. The research also suggests that this age group spends an estimated 15.5 hours watching TV every week and one third (33%) has a TV in their bedroom.

Social networking

Children are keen users of social networks. Forty-three per cent of 5-15s with access to internet at home have a social networking profile, rising to 80% of 12-15s. Those aged 8-11 have an average of 92 friends and children aged 12-15 say they have, on average, 286 friends.

Children express high levels of confidence online with 83% of 8-11 year olds and 93% of 12-15s saying that they are confident that they know how to stay safe online. However, children aged 8-11 estimate that they have not met around one in eight (12%) of their social network friends in person (an average of 11 people per child) while 12-15s say they have not met around one in four (25%) - an average of 72 people per child.

Keeping children safe

Although parents' concerns about content online and on TV are decreasing, the vast majority of parents (97%) believe that they have some responsibility to ensure children do not see unsuitable TV content.

Most parents are taking some sort of action to protect their children from inappropriate material. Four fifths (79%) of parents of 5-15 year olds who go online at home say they have rules in place about their children's internet usage - such as checking what their child is doing online or setting time limits. Half of parents of 5-15s have parental controls installed on their TV; 46% of parents of 5-15s who go online at home have online controls installed on computers at home; and 31% of parents of 12-15s with a phone that can be used to go online have mobile phone 'filters' in place.

One in ten (10%) parents say they do not have parental controls installed on computers either because they don't know how to do this, or are not aware that it is possible, rising to 21%-25% for fixed/mobile games consoles and 35% for mobile phones. The most frequent reason given by parents of younger children for not having technical controls on computers is that their child is always supervised (63% for both 5-7s and 8-11s), while for children aged 12-15 it is because they trust their child (67%).

ParentPort ( provides straightforward information on what parents can do if they feel they have seen or heard something inappropriate in the media for their children - including advice on how to keep children safe online. Through the ParentPort website, parents can complain about inappropriate material across the media industry.

ParentPort is supporting this year's Get Safe Online Week 2012 by publishing a new guide on how to protect children in a digital world.



  1. Ofcom's Children and parents: media use and attitudes report 2012.
    • New qualitative research on parents' use of, and attitudes to, parental controls on internet-enabled devices, included as Annex 1.
    • Analysis of children's television viewing habits sourced from BARB, the UK's television measurement panel, included as Annex 2.
    • UKOM/Nielsen data on most-accessed websites by children aged 5-15, included as Annex 3.
    • Data on parents' views on programme standards and regulation from Ofcom's 2011 Media Tracker survey, included as Annex 4.
  2. The research is a central part of Ofcom's promotion of media literacy, a responsibility placed on Ofcom by Section 11 of the Communications Act 2003. Under Section 14 (6) (a) of the Act we have a duty to make arrangements for the carrying out of research into the matters mentioned in Section 11 (1).Media literacy enables people to have the skills, knowledge and understanding they need to make full use of the opportunities presented both by traditional and by new communications services. Media literacy also helps people to manage content and communications, and protect themselves and their families from the potential risks associated with using these services.
  3. Ofcom works closely with UKCCIS - the UK Council for Child Internet Safety - which brings together over 180 organisations to help keep children and young people safe online.
  4. ParentPort was jointly developed by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD), the BBC Trust, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), Ofcom, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) and the Video Standards Council (VSC)/Pan-European Game Information (PEGI).
  5. Ofcom has produced consumer guides to help parents to manage their children's access to digital media:
    • Managing your media: A consumer guide to protecting your children in a digital world
    • Parental controls for games consoles/portable media players