Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Story behind e-Safety statistics, part 2: Isn’t this only applicable to older children?

My school is a junior school, so our pupils are the very youngest in the education system. One of the questions I had was whether the Internet was a phenomenon that really only impacted older children, and so we didn’t really have to think about it too hard for our teeny-tiny tots. Let’s look at what the stats say:

  • In 2012, 27% of children aged 0-4 years used a computer at all, whilst 4% of 0-4 year olds had their own computer. (Childwise, December 2012)
  • In 2012, 23% of children aged 0-4 years used the Internet at all. (Childwise, December 2012)
  • Amongst children aged 0-4 years using the Internet in 2012, 11% used every/ most days, 36% 2-3 times a week, 33% around once a week, and 20% less often. The average frequency of Internet use amongst 0-4 year olds was 2.1 times per week. (Childwise, December 2012)
  • Amongst children aged 0-4 years using the Internet in 2012, 7% spent about two hours online in an average day, 47% around an hour on the Internet, whilst 37% were online for less than an hour per day (9% not known). (Childwise, December 2012)

So it’s clear that the Internet does have a significant presence in the lives of even our youngest children. Let’s look at what they actually do:

  • The main activity amongst 0-4 year olds using the Internet in 2012 was to play games, with 74% playing games online. 28% watched TV or video clips on the Internet, whilst a minority of 13% used specific websites. (Childwise, December 2012)
  • CBeebies was the clear favourite website amongst 0-4 year olds using the Internet in 2012, with 61% of parents saying it was their child’s favourite. YouTube was chosen by 11%, followed by CBBC at 7%, and Disney and Milkshake both at 4%. (Childwise, December 2012)

So it seems to me that the youngest children are using the Internet to do things that are already available to them outside of the Internet. I assumed that this was because our youngest children are still always supervised online, so the parents stick with the things they are comfortable with – watching TV, or playing games. Turns out that this isn’t true:

  • 35% of 5-7 year-olds are only allowed to use the Internet when supervised. (OfCom, October 2012)
  • 47% of 5-7 year-olds have their Internet use regularly checked by their parents. (OfCom, October 2012)
  • 53% of 5-7 year-olds are limited to children’s web sites. (OfCom, October 2012)

So in the majority of cases, these choices are not made due to parental oversight. Maybe, these sites are popular because they are popular with the children, not the parents. In other words, it seems that the youngest children naturally seek only to play, and do not seek to experience unsuitable content.

A final thought on supervision, this time for the very youngest:

  • Supervision whilst using the Internet was mainly the responsibility of mums, with 76% of children aged 0-4 who used the Internet at all in 2012 having their mum supervise them at least on occasion. Dad supervised for 20% of children, whilst a sibling helped for 26% of 0-4 year olds. 9% of 0-4 year olds were allowed to use the Internet on their own. (Childwise, December 2012)

The online behaviour that I see in my own household most frequently is not using a computer, though – it is swiping through the iThingy to the apps.

  • 15% of 0-4 year olds in 2012 used apps at all, either on smart phones or tablet computers. (Childwise, December 2012)
  • Amongst 0-4 year olds using apps in 2012, 80% did so mainly on someone else’s smart phone, and 7% did so mostly on their own mobile phone. 13% mainly used a tablet computer to use apps (3% mainly used their own, 10% mostly used someone else’s). (Childwise, December 2012)

Guess the favourite app?

  • The favourite apps amongst app using 0-4s in 2012 tended to be games, with Angry Birds topping the list. (Childwise, December 2012)

It’s also my favourite app. And so I have returned to the same conclusion as in the last part, that online life isn’t very different from meatspace life. It therefore makes sense to me that we view Internet usage as a wider social behaviour, that we have to acknowledge and address, starting from our very youngest children.

More in this series: part 1, part 3.  


  1. If people allow their children to access the Internet unsupervised, they should consider whether they allow their children to walk to school unsupervised, walk to a friend's house, conduct a financial transaction in a shop unsupervised.

    INMO the Internet needs to be treated no differently to the physical (meatspace) world we occupy. When small, children cross the road holding their responsible grown-up's hand. As time goes on, one asks "is there anything coming, do you think it's safe to cross" until gradually they are equipped to make the value judgement of whether or not they can cross the road without a grown up guiding them, or even present.

    Online space is clearly no different to real space.

    1. Tanya Byron uses a powerful analogy of a swimming pool: when we teach children to swim, we give put them in the shallow end, give them arm bands, and swimming lessons. Having equipped them with the necessary skills, we then let them go into the deep end, and we let them swim.


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