One in three children in the UK now has their own tablet computer, which has nearly doubled in a year, new Ofcom research finds.
Among children aged between 5 and 15, 34% now have their own tablet, rather than using devices belonging to their parents or school, up from a fifth (19%) in 2013.
Six in ten (62%) children use a tablet at home, which has risen by half in a year (42% in 2013).
A sharp increase in tablet ownership among very young children means that some are using one to surf the web, play games and watch video clips before they join school. More than one in 10 children aged 3-4 now have their own tablet (11%, up from 3% in 2013).
Twice as many children aged 5-15 are using a tablet to go online (42% versus 23% in 2013), which could have implications in future use of laptops and PCs. For the first time, the proportion of children accessing the internet on a PC, laptop or netbook fell, by three percentage points, year on year, to 88%.
These trends are highlighted in Ofcom’s annual Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report, which examines children’s use of different media and communications, and the role parents play in overseeing them.
The popularity of the tablet could be contributing to the declining number of children with a TV set in their bedroom. This has decreased by a third over the past five years (from 66% in 2009 to 46% in 2014).
The proportion of children watching TV on a tablet has risen by a third in a year to 20% (up from 15% in 2013) while a third (33%) watch on-demand TV.
Despite the decline of TV sets in the bedroom, children still say that they would miss TV (34%) more than other popular devices (17% for mobile, 15% for tablets and 11% for games console). However, older children aged 12-15 are twice as likely to miss their mobile phone compared to TV (37% versus 18%).
Children aged 5-15 also spend more time watching TV every week (14.6 hours) than doing any other media activity, although there has been a decrease since 2013 when it was 15.4 hours.
Previous Ofcom research has found that families are coming together in the living room to watch bigger and better TVs, and use portable media devices like tablets and smartphones.
There has been a three-fold increase in a year in the number of children’s households with a ‘smart TV’ (from 13% in 2013 to 39%). Internet-enabled ‘smart TVs’ allow viewers access to a range on online services, such as catch-up TV. One in three children (31%) has a smartphone, stable since last year (29%).
The proportion of children with games consoles in their bedrooms has also declined over the past year (41%, down from 47% in 2013). Tablets are also becoming increasingly popular for games, with more children playing on this device (30%, up from 23% in 2013).
Over the past five years, the proportion of children that have radios in their bedroom has halved, down from 32% in 2009 to 14% in 2013. However, this has remained stable over the last year.
Girls appear to use their devices for social activities more than boys do. In a typical week, older girls aged 12-15 send more text messages than boys (163 versus 113) and make more mobile phone calls (23 versus 17).
Nearly half (47%) of older girls say that a mobile phone is the device they would most miss, compared to nearly a third of older boys (29%). Girls of this age are also more likely than boys to most miss a tablet computer (16% versus 9%).
Older girls and boys (12-15) are equally active on social media (71% have a profile). However, girls are more likely than boys to use Instagram (42% versus 30%), SnapChat (33% versus 20%) and Tumblr (11% versus 3%). This perhaps reflects the importance of sharing photos and content between friends on these services.
Only one social media site, video sharing website YouTube, attracts more boys (12-15), who are nearly twice as likely as girls of the same age to use this site (29% versus 15%).
Nine in ten parents whose children go online are taking steps to help their children manage risks when using the internet.
Popular methods include parents supervising their children online (84%), talking to children about managing online risks (78%) and having rules in place about use and access of the internet (82%).
Over half of parents whose children go online use some kind of technical tool to manage online risks (54%). These tools include things like filters provided by internet companies, using PIN/passwords and parental control and virus protection software.
The majority of parents feel they know enough to help their child manage online risks (77%), but nearly half of parents whose child goes online (43%) feel their children know more about the internet than they do. This rises to nearly two thirds (62%) of parents feeling less knowledgeable than their children aged 12-15.
Ofcom understands the importance of giving parents clear advice about who they can contact with particular concerns about different types of media.
The website ParentPort provides straightforward information on what parents can do if they feel they have seen or heard something inappropriate for their children. The site makes the process of making a complaint easier by directing parents to the right regulator for their specific concern.
Ofcom has also published a range of guides for parents to help them understand more about parental controls and how to protect their children in a digital world.