kids using smartphones

Six insights into children’s media habits from Ofcom’s ‘Children and Parents’ report

Priscilla McGregor-Kerr

23 Jan 2018

After a year in which concerns about fake news and harmful online content were constantly in the headlines, understanding children’s use of media technology is becoming increasingly important for parents, teachers and society at large. Many brands are also trying to understand changing media consumption habits and how they might need to respond. Ofcom released its ‘Children and Parents: Media use and attitudes’ report in November 2017 to analyse British children’s media literacy. It provides a fascinating insight into themes like social media and inappropriate content online. Here are some of the most interesting findings from the research:

1. YouTube is the new TV

YouTube is the most popular brand amongst children and almost half stated it’s the content brand they would miss most if it was taken away. This is reflected in the statistics as 48% of 3-4-year-olds, 71% of 5-7-year-olds, 81% of 8-11-year-olds, and 90% of 12-15-year-olds are YouTube users. It’s also the most recognised brand amongst 12-15-year-olds – remarkably, more of them know the YouTube brand than either the BBC or ITV.

2. Snapchat is winning the social media battle

Approximately a quarter of 8-11-year-olds and three-quarters of 12-15-year-old have a social media profile. Fewer are using Facebook and do not consider it to be their ‘main’ online profile. Snapchat has increased in popularity, however, with double the number of children from 2016 claiming it as their ‘main’ profile.

3. Kids keep up with news but worry about accuracy

Half of 12-15-year-olds say they are interested in keeping up to date with the news, with 1 in 10 considering themselves to be very interested. Interest in news rises to 96% once asked to choose from a list of 11 types of news including music, sports, celebrities, and ‘serious things’ happening in the UK. However, almost half of 12-15-year-olds who use social media for news agreeing that it is difficult to determine whether a news story is true.

4. Mobile phones are treasured more and more

Children across all age groups are more likely to have their own tablet than in 2016. However, mobile phones would be the media device they would miss the most (57% of 12-15-year-olds said). This is the first year that children have nominated mobile phones more than TV sets as their most-missed device despite the fact that the TV set is the device children are most likely to use to watch content.

5. Parents are increasingly worried

Despite the majority of parents agreeing that the benefits of the internet outweigh the risks, there was an increase in parents being concerned about their children’s media use in 2017. Consequently, nearly all parents use at least one approach to mediate their children’s use of online services and content, i.e. conversing regularly with their children on staying safe online, supervision, and using technical tools. However, awareness around the minimum age of various social media platforms is low amongst parents with 21% being aware of Instagram’s, 15% knowing Snapchat’s, and 7% knowing WhatsApp’s, leaving Facebook’s minimum age as the most known amongst parents (38%).

6. Nearly half of kids have seen inappropriate content but most don’t report it

In terms of inappropriate content online, 45% of 12-15-year-olds have seen hateful content towards a demographic group, and 1 in 10 have seen something of a sexual nature that made them feel uncomfortable. Three-quarters of 12-15-year-olds online are aware of the reporting functions on social media platforms. Only 12% who have seen something they deem as inappropriate have reported it. Nevertheless, almost all 8-15-year-olds who go online said they have been told about how to use the internet safely.


With the widening variety of uses for the internet, it’s becoming increasingly important to monitor children’s media literacy. Despite variations across age groups, one common theme prevailed and was a cause for parental concern: As a consequence of the growing ownership of tablets, dependency on smart phones, and independent content viewing, 2017 has seen children become more independent with their use of technology. This means tech providers will be under more public pressure than ever to play their part in protecting young people. Head to our planning and strategy page to learn how we can help you better understand your audience