Younger children turn from phones to tablets

03 October 2013

  • Children's mobile phone ownership falls for first time, as devices shift
  • Fewer children have online profiles, and social media use diversifies

The number of children who own a mobile phone is going down, as youngsters reject basic handsets and increasingly turn to tablet computers to access the internet.

The finding is part of Ofcom's wide-ranging "Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report", published today, which examines how children access and use different types of media, and the role parents play in overseeing them.

For the first time since the survey began in 2005, the overall number of children aged 5-15 owning a mobile phone has fallen - from 49% last year to 43% in 2013.

This was mainly because the proportion of younger children (8-11) who own a basic mobile phone - as opposed to a smartphone - fell steeply to 15%, from 28% last year. Among this age group, 18% now own a smartphone, and the same proportion own a tablet computer. While the smartphone figure is largely stable year-on-year, tablet ownership has grown four-fold among 8-11s since last year (from 4%).

The study shows that younger and older children have different priorities when it comes to connected devices. Among older children (12-15), smartphones remain more widely used than tablets. Around three in five (62%) own a smartphone - unchanged since last year - but 26% now own a tablet computer, up from just 7% last year.

The rise of tablets

Tablet computers are growing fast in popularity, becoming a must-have device for children of all ages. The use of tablets1 has tripled among 5-15s since 2012 (42%, up from 14%), and one quarter (28%) of infants aged 3-4 now use a tablet computer at home.

Similarly, tablet usage is rising rapidly among 5-7 year olds (39%, from 11% last year) and 8-11 year olds (44%, from 13%). These devices are becoming more popular among these youngest internet users, who are five times more likely than last year to mostly use a tablet when accessing the internet at home (19%, from 4%).

At the same time, more traditional devices are being used less to go online, with the proportion of children mainly using a laptop, netbook or desktop computer falling to 68% - down from 85% in 2012. Twice as many children as last year are mainly using other devices to go online, with tablets (13%) and mobiles (11%) the most popular choices.

Children's preference for internet-enabled devices reflects changes in how younger people are going online. While the usability of tablets appears to meet younger children's entertainment needs, particularly for watching audio-visual content and playing games, older children mainly use smartphones to communicate.

Children with smartphones send an estimated 184 instant messages (IM) in a typical week. Traditional text messaging (SMS) remains a highly popular way of communicating for youngsters, especially those aged 12-15. These teenagers send on average 255 text messages per week, up from 193 last year.

Changing media use in the bedroom

Around one in five 8-11s (17%) now say they mostly use the internet in their bedroom, up from 12% in 2012.

Conversely, the proportion with a TV in the bedroom has fallen to 52% (from 59% last year), while those aged 5-15 are also less likely to have a games console in their bedroom (47%, down from 56%). This reflects a decline in the use of fixed and handheld gaming devices, and a threefold annual increase in the proportion of 5-15s using tablet computers to play games (23%, up from 7%).

Despite the decline in bedroom sets, TV programming remains very important to children. Television itself continues to be the medium that children aged 5-15 say they would miss most among all the activities they regularly undertake.

But compared to last year, children are more likely to watch programmes on devices other than a TV, such as a laptop, tablet or mobile phone. Nearly half (45%) of children aged 5-15 are doing so, up from 34% last year.

Online media use is changing

For the first time, fewer children have online social media profiles. Compared to last year, 12-15s are much less likely to say they have a profile on any device (68%, down from 81%).

The mix of social media used by children is evolving. While nearly all 12-15s with an active online profile continue to use Facebook (97%), they are now less likely to have a profile on Bebo (4%, down from 8% last year) and more likely to have a profile on Twitter (37%, from 25%).

On the wider internet, schoolwork is the most mentioned internet activity carried out at least weekly by 8-11s (75%), followed by games (54%) and finding information (45%). These children are much more likely than last year to use the internet weekly for telephone or video calls (10%, up from 5%) or for going to photo-sharing websites (5%, from 2%).

The role of parents

The majority of parents say they know enough to keep their child safe online, but around half (47%) continue to feel that their child knows more about the internet than they do. This figure is largely stable year on year, but varies by the child's age. Almost two thirds (63%) of parents of 12-15 year olds - and 14% of parents of infants aged 3-4 - say they know less about the internet than their child.

Parents of 5-15s monitor their child’s internet use in different ways. These include ever talking to their children about staying safe online (79%), having rules about parental supervision (53%) or using some kind of technology (62%).

More than four in ten (43%) of parents of 5-15s who use a home PC, laptop or netbook to go online say they have some kind of parental controls in place. A similar proportion (44%) say that safe search settings are set, and 19% say they have the YouTube safety mode enabled. Less than one in ten (8%) say they have set a pin or password on broadcasters' websites.

Although 18% of internet users aged 12-15 say they know how to change online filters or controls, considerably fewer (6%) say they have done so in the past year. One in four parents (24%) of 5-15 year old internet users is concerned about cyberbullying, while one in seven (14%) said they were concerned about their child cyberbullying somebody else.



1. These usage figures are distinct from ownership - i.e., the child may be using someone else's tablet, such as their parents'.

2. This research is central to 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, Ofcom has 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 supports Get Safe Online, the UK's national internet security awareness initiative. Ofcom also works closely with UKCCIS - the UK Council for Child Internet Safety - which brings together more than 180 organisations to help keep children and young people safe online.

4. Ofcom has produced the following consumer guides to help parents to manage their children's access to digital media: Protecting your child in the digital worldParental controls for games consoles/portable media players

5. 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. ParentPort has been jointly developed by the Advertising Standards Authority, the Authority for Television On Demand, the BBC Trust, the British Board of Film Classification, Ofcom, the Press Complaints Commission and the Video Standards Council/Pan-European Game Information.

6. Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications, wireless communications and postal services.

7. For further information about Ofcom please visit: Ofcom’s news releases can be found at: