Media Literacy Audit - Report on UK children’s media literacy

16 May 2008

Executive summary

The promotion of media literacy is a responsibility placed on Ofcom by Section 11 of the Communications Act 2003. Ofcom’s definition of media literacy, developed after formal consultation with stakeholders is ‘the ability to access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts’. This report is structured according to the elements in this definition.

  • Access includes take-up of media devices, volume and breadth of use.
  • Understand includes interest and competence in using the features available on each platform, extent and levels of concern, trust in television and online content and use of television and internet security controls.
  • Create includes people’s confidence in engaging with creative content and their interest in carrying out creative tasks, most notably using social networking sites.

Children are among the most enthusiastic and engaged groups in society in terms of their consumption of a wide range of media. Homes containing children are significantly more likely to have access to a wider range of technologies than homes that do not. Our analysis also demonstrates that age, gender and socio-economic group are key determinants of which types of media are used, where they are used and how they are used.

In understanding children’s media literacy, it is important to consider the context in which they are consuming media, particularly at home. For this reason we capture and track detailed information about what devices children have at home, either in shared areas or in their own bedroom, and how they use and regard this equipment. Where possible, we also explore out-of-home use.

The in-home media landscape has continued to develop at a rapid pace in recent years, with access to, and use of, the internet in particular increasing significantly since the last Audit. As the nature of children’s access to media changes, so do the ways in which children consume and combine media. In the first part of this report we discuss these changes, and explore which groups are most affected and why.

As the range and type of media available in-home varies considerably for each child, so too does the ability of parents to cope with the demands of this technology – we go on to explore the use of rules, understanding and information needs in more detail later in this report.


Increased access to and use of key media, differences by age and gender

Across the UK we continue to see increased take-up and use of key media and newer technologies, particularly the internet, mobile phones, MP3 players and digital cameras, in households with children.

Use of some key media, including the television, games consoles and the internet, are well established by the age of 5; while the volume and range of media use increases with age, it is largely driven by increases in mobile phone and internet use. There are high levels of media activity in children’s bedrooms, with a significant increase in internet access in the bedroom since 2005 (3% compared to 9% for 8-11s and 13% compared to 20% for 12-15s). Indeed children’s bedrooms are increasingly becoming multi-media centres, with children aged 12-15 having an average of six media devices in their bedrooms and children aged 8-11 having an average of four.

Around two-thirds of children tend to watch television, listen to the radio and use the internet in a room without an adult present. Solo users account for 16% of all children aged 8-15 watching television and 14% of all children aged 8-15 using the internet.

The correlation between age and mobile phone use is particularly strong, with the proportion of children using a mobile almost doubling between the age of 9 (52%) and 15 (95%). While in 2005 we saw a sharp increase in mobile phone use between the ages of 10 and 11 years, in 2007 the rise is more gradual and starts at an earlier age, with significantly higher usage levels among 9 and 10 year olds; children are acquiring mobiles at a younger age and using them more.

Behaviour patterns and media preferences vary considerably by gender; boys of all ages are more likely than girls to use games consoles and to cite these as the medium they would miss the most. While the media preference of younger girls is dominated by television, older girls demonstrate particularly high levels of mobile phone use and are more likely to miss their mobile phone than any other medium.

Communication is also a key driver of internet use among older girls; they are significantly more likely than older boys to use the internet for contact with other people (84% compared to 75% using the internet at least once a week for instant messaging and 79% compared to 64% using the internet at least once a week for social networking).

Lower internet access in socio-economic group C2DE households

While internet access and use continues to increase overall, there is a marked difference between household penetration of the internet by socio-economic group (ABC1 86% compared to C2DE 63%). Almost all children access the internet in some way, but those in the C2DE socio-economic groups are more likely to access the internet only outside the home (ABC1 12% compared to C2DE 31%); mainly at school, but also in the homes of friends who do have access.

Simultaneous media use growing, particularly among older children

There have been increases in claimed usage levels of all media since 2005, particularly for the internet and radio (across all ages), and the mobile phone (among older children). This is indicative of another key trend: children using more than one device at the same time. This is particularly prevalent among older children who have a mobile phone and internet access.

Television remains a key platform for children: access is universal, most children watch it daily and it remains the activity children would miss the most across all ages. However, current usage patterns suggest that television has increasingly to compete for attention with the growing presence and simultaneous use of other technologies, particularly the internet. This is predominantly the case for older children and those in ABC1 households.

Conversely, increased internet use also appears to plays a critical role in driving up interaction with other media, including television; interaction with television overall has declined, but interaction with programme websites has increased, no doubt influenced by simultaneous use of television and the internet.

Children are also starting to use the internet increasingly for viewing television programmes, films or video clips; nearly one in five older children claim to do this at least once or twice a week, although a far higher proportion, around one in three, say they use the internet to download music videos or user-generated content. This type of active interaction via websites may have the potential to increase levels of engagement and to change the nature of children’s relationship with these media.


Trust in television content varies by genre

Children’s trust in television programmes differs by type of programme (43% of 8-11s and 47% of 12-15s). There are higher levels of trust for news and nature programmes (over 80% for all 8-15s) than for reality television programmes (under 50% for all 8-15s).

At an overall level, children claim to trust online content (59% of 8-11s and 61% of 12-15s). However, further analysis suggests a more complex picture, with less than one in ten children strongly agreeing that they believe most of what they see on the internet; this suggests that at some level children are evaluating the content they see online.

Over half of children aged 12-15 also make some form of check when visiting a new website; for example, by asking others, evaluating the look and feel of the website, reviewing how up to date it is, or considering who has created the site and why.

The different levels of trust in internet and televisions content may reflect the differing roles and usage of the two platforms; the internet is much more likely to be used for sourcing information than television, which is largely used for fun and relaxation.

Children and parents have a variety of concerns over use of media

The most common dislike about television among children is that there are too many adverts; 47% of 8-11s and 57% of 12-15s dislike the number of adverts they see on television. Although at relatively low levels, some children say that they see or hear things on the television that make them sad, frightened or embarrassed (19% of 8-11s and 12% of 12-15s) or that they consider are too old for them (11% of 8-11s and 7% of 12-15s).

The most common dislike among child internet users is that there are too many pop-up adverts (41% of 8-11s and 65% of 12-15s) and that websites take too long to load (37% of 8-11s and 41% of 12-15s). Although at relatively low levels, as with television, some children are seeing or hearing things online that they say make them sad, frightened or embarrassed (8% of 8-11s and 9% of 12-15s) or that they consider are too old for them (12% of 8-11s and 8% of 12-15s).

It is worth nothing that the content children say they dislike is not necessarily content they should be shielded from. For example, seeing footage of poverty or animal cruelty may be sad or frightening, but highlights issues that, arguably, children should be aware of.

Most children are confident about using the internet and a high proportion claim that they can always find what they are looking for (94%); t hose who are more confident about using the internet are less likely to state they have seen something on the internet that has made them feel concerned.

Parents are more likely than children to be concerned about the key media platforms, although overall levels of concern do not appear to be particularly high; less than one in ten parents consider the internet to be one of their major concerns, and for television this drops to less than one in twenty.

There is a clear tension in the role of the internet for parents, who perceive it as both the most beneficial and the most worrying platform used by their children. When asked directly, however, the majority agree that the benefits do outweigh the risks (70% of parents of 8-11s and 75% of parents of 12-15s).

Children share public concern about violent games

Children’s views on gaming are particularly interesting. Around two-thirds of older children agree that violence in games affects people’s behaviour outside the game and that violence in games has more impact on people’s behaviour than violence in television or films. There are high levels of agreement for having settings on consoles which can restrict game playing based on age ratings.

Although research to date has failed to prove conclusively a link between violent games and violent behaviour in children, children themselves clearly share the wider public concern around this issue. A possible factor in this is the high ongoing level of media coverage of violent crimes in which game playing is alleged to have been a factor.

Absence of rules on media use in some homes

Nearly one in ten parents with children using more than one of the platforms have no rules for any of their child’s media use; these are more likely to be parents of older children in DE households.

Around a third of all parents say they do not have concerns about any of the media platforms; again these were particularly parents of older children and those from the C2DE socio-economic group. Parents of boys were also less likely than parents of girls to have concerns.

In addition, children who tend to watch television or use the internet alone, often in their bedroom, are less likely to have rules than those who watch with others (71% compared to 84%), although this is influenced to some extent by older children being more likely to use these devices alone.

Overall, just under a third of parents use a PIN or password control to restrict their child’s television viewing. Since 2005 there has been a significant increase in parental awareness/use of PINs for multichannel television among parents of younger children (25% compared to 31%).

More than half of all households with internet access have no blocking software or other controls over online access. The number of households using such safety provisions has declined since 2005, both for households with 8-11 year olds (55% down to 50%) and those with 12-15 year olds (51% down to 43%) . The main reason for parents not having such controls is their belief in their child’s ability to self-regulate their internet behaviour (54% of parents of 8-11s and 72% of parents of 12-15s).


Social networking sites increase creative activity

Social networking sites are a key driver of children’s desire and ability to create content online, and we have seen a significant increase in this type of creative behaviour since 2005 as a result of the rise in popularity of social networking sites. The increased prevalence of recordable devices such as camera phones, digital cameras, MP3 players and webcams are also a factor in this trend. Over half of 12 – 15s who have the internet at home state that they have a social networking profile.

Girls are more likely than boys to engage in a range of creative online activities, particularly those related to communicating or sharing content with other people. Participating in social networking has quickly become a popular activity and social currency among children. Although social networking sites are mainly used as a communications tool to manage existing relationships a significant minority are using them to communicate with people that they do not know (11%).

Among many social networking site users there is a lack of awareness of, or concern about, potential safety and security risks. Many feel that they are immune to any potential risks, and that even if they were to have problems, they would be able to deal with them.

At the sam e time, a significant proportion of children continue to express a lack of interest in creative activities; a third say they have no interest in setting up a social networking site profile and half are not interested in creating content such as making short films, producing photo albums or writing blogs.


Older children are more likely than younger children to learn about digital technology in school. Since 2005 there has been an increase in 8-11s reporting they have lessons about television (for example, how television programmes are made and paid for) and an increase in 12-15s reporting they have lessons about the internet (for example, how the internet works, how to do research on the internet or how to avoid websites that you do not want to see).

Urban and rural

While overall levels of media access do not vary significantly between children living in urban and rural areas, some interesting differences emerge in usage patterns. Mobile phone use is significantly higher among children living in urban areas compared to those living in rural areas (87% compared to 83%), while use of social networking sites is higher among rural children (61% compared to 54%).


Some interesting differences emerge between children living in the different UK nations:

  • Since 2005 there has been a reduction in the proportion of parents in England who have rules for their children about using the internet (from 86% to 79%) and using a mobile phone (from 75% to 69%). In Scotland in the same period there has been a significant increase in parents saying they have rules about all platforms. As a result, rules for use of key media platforms in Scotland are now level with the UK as a whole.
  • In general, parents in Northern Ireland are more likely than the UK as a whole to have controls in place on television content (64% compared to 52%) and internet content (78% compared to 67%). Households with digital television in Northern Ireland are more likely to have set controls to restrict the channels available and setting digital television controls has increased since 2005. They are also more likely than the whole of the UK to have rules about using the internet and to have internet controls or blocking software.
  • Children in Scotland (81%) and Wales (84%) tend to be confident in using the internet and are more likely than children in the UK as a whole (75%) to say that they can always find what they are looking for online. Children in Northern Ireland are less confident that they can always find what they are looking for online (60%).
  • In each of the UK nations the number of children saying they have lessons about the internet has increased since 2005. However, compared to the UK average (74%), children in Wales (66%) and Northern Ireland (59%) are less likely to say they have lessons at school about the internet.

The full document is available below