Every year the UK’s communications regulator Ofcom runs a study to understand how children and young people ages 5-15 use media and communications. In previous years, the time children spend on online had been increasing, but this seems to have levelled out since 2018 at an average of 2 hours and 11 minutes per day.
Originally published in Issue 8 of Hello World: The computing and digital making magazine for educators. Available free at helloworld.cc (Shared under Creative Commons CC BY NC SA).
What is changing is the time spent watching TV; average TV time has fallen to be 19 minutes a day less than time spent online. It seems that many children are using online services instead of traditional TV, with the most used online destination for children being YouTube. More than half of children who watch both traditional TV and YouTube say they prefer YouTube.
The reason for this seems to be that YouTube offers children choice. They can personalise their viewing to their interests due to the nature of YouTube content and the fact that they take control of what they watch. They like to watch videos related to their hobbies and passions, including offline activities like music of football. They follow well known YouTube vloggers, and there is also a lot of interests in ‘sensory videos’ such as people playing with slime.
This is a notable shift in both the nature and the content of children’s viewing habits. In the past few years we have seen a move from children mostly watching content that is scheduled for them and watched live, often following the conventions of television, to a hugely diverse and self directed viewing experience that can follow any direction they choose. This raises concerns, as with this freedom can come access to content that is produced with older or adult audiences in mind. There are also many positive opportunities as children use this diverse resource to explore and develop their interests, and take advantage of learning content.