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UK: Ofcom finds 50% of kids have a smartphone by 10 and WhatsApp use is growing among teens

Ofcom has announced the latest edition of its ‘Children and parents: Media use and attitudes report’. While it shows many aspects of children’s digital lives, perhaps the most important finding was that at age 10 more than half of kids have a smartphone, a milestone that the digital regulator has dubbed ‘digital independence’.

The findings reveal that between age 9 and 10, smartphone ownership jumps from 23% to 50%, this is compared to tablets where ownership stays around 44% from ages 7 to 9 before hitting 55% at age 10. Until kids reach the 12-15 age range, tablets remain the most popular device to go online with.

Commenting on the report, Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s Strategy and Research Group Director, said:

“Today’s children have never known life without the internet, but two million parents now feel the internet causes them more harm than good.

So it’s encouraging that parents, carers and teachers are now having more conversations than ever before with children about online safety. Education and stronger regulation will also help children to embrace their digital independence, while protecting them from the risks.”

As more households upgrade to faster internet connections, more children are starting to use connected devices such as smart speakers which rose from 15% usage in 2018 to 27% in 2019. Kids have also started consuming more content via smart TVs with usage up from 61% in 2018 to 67% last year. Radio listenership among kids has seen a decline from 26% in 2018 to 22% in 2019.

The report also found that half of girls aged 5 to 15 play games online, up from 39% in 2018. Despite this, 71% of boys play games and spend twice as long playing per week than girls. The report also noted a phenomenon called the “Greta effect” where 18% of 12-15 year-olds use social media to support causes and organisations by sharing or commenting on posts. The report also found that kids are following more ‘micro’ or ‘nano’ influencers – influencers that have fewer followers but could be more local to a child’s area or share a niche interest.

The final key finding shows that while Facebook and Snapchat were the most popular social media services among 12-15 year-olds, WhatsApp usage has grown from 43% in 2018 to 62% in 2019 despite it having a minimum age requirement of 16 in the UK. The report also found that new platforms such as TikTok are starting to become more popular among this age group. You can download the complete report from Ofcom’s website.

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