What the latest data tells us about young people’s lives online


How are trends in the way young people are using technology and communicating informing your work?

Ofcom just dropped their Children and Parents media use and attitudes 2019 report, a global report highlighted the challenges in UK online safety for children this week and the UK Government have just announced a number of changes to tackle online safety.

Ofcom’s findings

How did 2019 shape up when it comes to media preferences for 3-15-year-olds? Here are a few highlights from their Children and Parents media use and attitudes 2019 report.

Well Connected

Unsurprisingly Generation Z and Alpha continue to be one of the most connected generations yet. Half of ten-year-olds now own their own smartphone and it’s at aged 9-10 where children are getting their first real independent access as they prepare to transition to secondary school.

Channel Changes

Laptop and desktop use are down for all ages, with the rise and affordability of tablets continuing and younger audiences (i.e. before getting smartphone freedom!) gaining wider access to them. For the first time more children watched video-on-demand (VOD) than live broadcast TV, something that has doubled over the last 5 years. 1 in 4 don’t even watch live anymore.

However, similar to a few other reports that have come out this year, it’s Smart Speakers that are the fastest growing and increasing in access in young people (although not across all socioeconomic groups I might add). Interestingly the UK Government announced in Jan 2020 that a new law would make the Internet of Things (IoT) safer, including smart speakers.


YouTube continues to be the firm favourite across 5-15s as it has been over the past 5 years but it’s breadth of use continues to evolve, whether that’s doing homework, music, learning new things or watching micro influencers, unboxing videos and a lot of slime (still). Voice search is starting to expand to homework and purchasing – expect this to grow in 2020!

Social media accounts for younger children have remained relatively low but rapidly rise from the age of 10 and again at 13 (the age children are legally meant to be). Platform preferences have changed considerably in the last 5 years; Facebook continues to drop with newbies TikTok and Twitch gaining ground.

Content Consumption Ofcom 2019 over past 5 years

Almost half of 5-15-year-old girls now play games online, up from 29% in 2018. Younger audiences are also becoming more aware of paid-for influencers and the rise of micro-influencers who are more relevant to their interests and often locality continues.

Having a voice

Older children are using social media to support causes or organisations more, with 1 in 10 signing an online petition of some sort in 2019. As Ofcom call it… the ‘Greta effect’.

Online Safety

The Child Online Safety Index by the DQ Institute, based on a three-year survey of more than 145,000 children and young people in 30 countries was released in Feb 2020 with the UK ranking as one of the world’s worst performing countries when it comes to online safety.

As well as overall ranking 19th the UK came second to last for children’s “disciplined digital use” based on excessive screen time, high social media and gaming use and mobile phone ownership.

COSI rankings

The study found that 8-19s in the UK are spending almost two days (44 hours) a week looking at screens – this includes computers, mobiles and television. And the UK didn’t brush up too well for “digital competency” (8th from last) when it came to children being able to use technology safely and responsibly.

DCMS appoint Ofcom as regulator

In response to the governments’ public consultation on the Online Harms White Paper it announced this week that it will appoint communications watchdog Ofcom as the regulator to enforce rules to make the internet a safer place.

One of the main reasons being to protect children and vulnerable people online. The guidance, laws, regulation on providers and tech platforms will need to transform under the ambitions of Government and in order to keep young people safe under a duty of care.

What does this mean for the rest of us?

The latest data on young people’s use of the internet and communications tools and preferences are always informative when it comes to developing campaigns in order to engage and inform them. BUT, just looking at how poor the UK perform when it comes to appropriate use and safety and the recognition of this at the highest level, should also inform how we may choose to engage young people through the work that we do.

Is it helpful and in the interests of that young person to engage them with more screen time? How can we help tackle the issue of online safety or screen time? What could be some of the other things that are being affected – such as mental health and physical wellbeing?

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you @Rebecca7Roberts

I’m also delivering a ‘Youth Matters’ workshop with Comms2point0 in March where I’ll share a first look at Thread & Fable’s ‘Engaging Youth 2020’ report, explore how best to approaching using the data out there to inform our campaigns when it comes to young people and a hands-on opportunity to tackle some of your communications challenges.

Find out all about it here