UK children's media consumption at
It’s a common assumption that today’s children are forever on their computers or gaming or
watching television but there weren’t that many reliable facts and figures to support this until now.
Ofcom, the UK government body which regulates and supervises the media, published a report on
October 25th which is arguably the most detailed and up to date study of children’s media
behaviour. The report specifically concentrated on how much time children spend on the Internet;
gaming - playing games on a computer, X-box or PlayStation; watching television; or listening to the
radio. It doesn’t examine the psychological effect of the exposure, that’s another story, but it does
contain very useful longitudinal data (change in behaviour over time) and attitudinal data (parental
concerns about different media) and has some intriguing insights which makes it well worth
reading in full. The particular Ofcom data used in this chart is based on information derived from
interviewing parents about their offspring’s media behaviour. As psychologists and teachers know,
parents are notoriously biased in reporting anything about their children so this may well have
resulted in some under or over reporting of the time involved, although I would expect that this is a
subject that parents are more likely to under rather than over estimate.
The study looked at children in three age groups: 5 to 7 years old; 8 to 11 years old; and 12 to 15
years old. The findings correlate with other research that I have seen and it clearly indicates that
the total time children spend on media consumption increases with age. By the time they’ve
reached 12 to 15 years of age they are spending a staggering 50.4 hours per week consuming
media, which is far more than the total time they spend at school.
The middle age group, 8 to 11 years of age, spend an equally impressive proportion of their waking
hours (39.3 hours per week) consuming media. But this group spends more time playing computer
games (9.8 hours per week), than they do using the Internet (8 hours per week).
Even the youngest group, the 5 to 7 year olds, have a high total media consumption of no less than
32.1 hours a week. This is when they are attending school for 30 hours each week and presumably
(hopefully) during this period of their young lives they have early bedtimes. Bedtimes not
withstanding, children at this early age are already consuming 15 hours of television every week.
This slightly increases to 15.9 hours by the time they are 8 to 11 years old, but it then jumps up to
17.6 hours a week as they reach the age of 12 to 15.
Looking at the time the two younger age groups spend per week using the Internet, you can see it
is secondary to the amount of time spent playing games. Using the Internet only surpasses playing
games when the curiosity and excitement surrounding puberty approaches. As a fascination with
sex becomes overwhelmingly important to the young adult, the time spent exploring social sites
like Facebook increases as the time spent on playing games decreases. This is especially apparent
in boys whose enthusiasm for shoot-em-up games wanes as testosterone levels rise and interest in
the opposite sex starts becoming paramount.
What I find really significant in the calculations I’ve deduced from the Ofcom data is the total
amount of time each week that children spend exposed to different media. It is extraordinary to
reflect that none of this media existed before 1898 when Marconi started the mass production of
radio sets in the town of Chelmsford in the UK. Just over a 100 years is a mere blink in evolutionary
time, and yet today, from the very earliest age, children are immersed in the virtual worlds of
Television, Internet, Gaming and Radio for as much, if not more, time than they engage with the
real world. Even more striking is that for most of these children’s parents computer games and the
Internet are comparatively recent inventions. Computer games began to be popular in the 1980’s
and the Internet only became widely available in 1994. Yet now engagement with an artificial, but
interactive, environment is so absorbing that the average 12 to 15 year old spends 25.2 hours a
week playing games and online, sometimes doing both at the same time. The Ofcom report reveals
that this older age group are also more likely to be on their own (51%) or with friends but
unsupervised (9%) and that no fewer than 28% of them will be playing games with total strangers.
Anyone analysing the games played online, and offline on X-Boxes and PlayStations, predominantly
by boys, has cause to worry. They are often extremely violent and misogynistic. There is a great
deal of academic research that correlates these virtual world activities with the later expression of
aggression and violence in the real world. If you feel brave enough, read this academic paper to
gain a better understanding about this behaviour. It’s a scary thought but these games are priming
the next generation to subconsciously believe that being violent and aggressive, and contemptuous
of females, is normal. Couple this immersive brain-washing with the agitated and belligerent
moods engendered by consuming sugar-laden products, like the heavily-advertised Colas
specifically targeted at the young, and we can all see trouble ahead. Perhaps this is something to
bear in mind when shopping for the children’s Xmas presents this year?
...with analysis & insight...