UK children’s media literacy

06 October 2009

Executive summary

This report is designed to give an accessible overview of media literacy among UK children aged 5-15 and their parents/carers. The purpose of this report is to support people working in this area to develop and promote media literacy among this group.

It is an interim report: that is, it reports on one wave of data from spring 2009. Data from autumn 2009 will be amalgamated with it and a full-year report will be published in early 2010, which will provide more detailed reporting in a number of areas.

In addition to providing topline analysis for some of the key media literacy measures, this report includes commentary on some new areas that were incorporated into the research programme in 2009, such as watching television content via broadcasters websites, game playing over the internet and awareness and attitudes to mobile location services available via mobile phones.

Children's use of media

Households with children aged 5-15 have high levels of take-up of the main media platforms. However, while take-up has increased in DE socio-economic group households since 2008, it is still lower than for other socio-economic groups. When looking specifically at use of the internet within the home, children in DE socio-economic groups are the only group not to have experienced an increase in use since 2008, despite the increase in access.

There has been an increase in the number of younger children (aged 5-7) using the internet at home. This increase does not appear to be the result of increased internet take-up within the home, suggesting that children in this age group are starting to use the internet at home at a younger age.

Since 2008 it has become more common for older children to have internet access in their bedroom, accounting for one in six children aged 8-11 (16%) and one-third of 12-15 year-olds (35%). Three per cent of 5-7 year-olds have such access.

Children aged 12-15 are more likely than younger children to use media away from the living room and without an adult present. Three-quarters of 12-15s (75%) now have a games console in their bedroom; this has also increased since 2008. When asked with whom they mostly play games, one in seven (15%) of 12-15 year olds who play games say they mostly play with other people over the internet.

The incidence of watching television or film content via UK television broadcasters websites increases with age, with this activity undertaken by one in twenty 5-7s (5%), one in eight 8-11s (13%) and one quarter of 12-15s (25%).

Parental concerns, controls and rules

The majority of parents say they trust their child to use the internet safely (63% of parents of 5-7s, 80% of parents of 8-11s, and 86% of parents of 12-15s). However, it is still the platform that causes parents the most concern (compared to television, radio, games consoles and mobile phones). Close to half of parents whose child uses the internet at home (45%) say they have internet controls or filtering software installed fewer have set safe search settings. Since 2008, these incidences have not changed among parents of 5-15s. Some 13% of parents of 5-15s say they either haven't heard of, or don't know how to set up, internet controls or filtering software (16% of parents of 8-11s).

Since 2008, parents of children aged 5-15 with multichannel TV services at home are more likely to have PIN or password controls set on their television, with this increase seen particularly in households with satellite as opposed to any other digital TV platform. One in three households with multichannel television has set up access controls (34%). Parents who do not have these controls set up give various reasons, but most commonly say that they trust their child to be sensible/ responsible, although one in seven (14%) say they either haven't heard of, or don't know how to set up, such controls.

Around four in ten parents of 5-15s (41%) are aware of mobile location services available via mobile phones, and around three-quarters of them agree that such services would be useful to help locate their child. Relatively few parents agree that these services would invade their childs privacy, but close to three-quarters of all parents with a child aged 5-15 are concerned that other people could locate their child through mobile location services (72%) and that companies may use these services to market products and services to their child (also 72%).

Parental rules for TV, the internet and games are in place for between 80-90% of 5-11s, and at a lower level for 12-15s. Rules for mobile phone use are in place for around two-thirds of 8-15 year olds (66%). Since 2008, there has been an increase in the use of time-based rules for television and the internet (not allowing viewing/ access to the internet after a certain time) with a decrease in some rules about access to content.

Knowledge and understanding of the internet

While two-thirds of children aged 12-15 (66%) make some kind of check when visiting new websites, a sizeable minority (25%) do not tend to make any checks. Both of these measures are unchanged since 2007. One in five 12-15s who use search engines say they do not know how results are ordered (18%), and one in three thinks that the most truthful are shown first (32%).

Two thirds of 12-15s with the internet at home say they have set up a social networking site profile, compared to 52% in 2008. Some 19% of 8-11s say they have set up such a profile, unchanged since the previous year. Children aged 12-15 with a social networking profile are now more likely to restrict access to their profiles so that they can be seen only by their friends.

Learning about media

Younger children aged 8-11 have a preference for learning from parents (59%) or at school (47%) whereas older children prefer to learn from their peers (46%).

A minority of children say they are taught about television at school, but seven in ten 8-11s (71%) and four in five 12-15s (84%) say they have lessons about the internet.