Teenage girls are sending an average of 221 texts a week, new research reveals – more than four times the UK average of 50. And nearly two-thirds of all 12 to 15-year-olds owns a smartphone, a sharp 50 per cent rise since 2011. The study of children and teenagers’ media habits also shows that “screen time” is drawing in children at an ever younger age, with more than a third of toddlers aged three to four using a computer, laptop or netbook. This age group also spends an estimated 15.5 hours watching television every week, with one third having a TV in their bedroom. This is despite recent warnings from experts that too much TV, mobile and computer use at a young age can lead to developmental and health problems. Leading psychologist Dr Aric Sigman has argued under-threes should be banned from screen use, while those aged between three and seven should be limited to just half an hour per day.
But the annual Ofcom report uncovers the rapid pace at which new media is growing in influence over young people’s lives. Texting in particular is booming in popularity. On average, 12 to 15-year-old boys and girls send 193 texts weekly, more than double the figure of 91 just one year ago. While girls in that age bracket send 221 a week, boys send 164. And 8 to 11-year-olds send 41 – up from 23 in 2011. For the first time ever, 12 to 15-year-olds are also spending as much time on the Internet as they do watching TV – around 17 hours a week on each. Ofcom consumer group director Claudio Pollack said: “Our latest research shows that children’s take-up and use of different media is growing at a rapid pace, with some areas such as texting and smartphone ownership fast outstripping the general population. “However, children are not just using more media, they are also adopting some forms at a very young age. This highlights the challenge that some parents face in keeping up with their children when it comes to technology and in understanding what they can do to protect children.” Other findings include that mobile phones are the most precious gadget to children, with nearly 40 per cent saying they would miss their mobile more than any other device – up from 28 per cent last year. A huge number – 43 per cent – of children aged five to 15 have a social networking profile, rising to 80 per cent of 12 to 15-year-olds. The older age group say they have an average of 286 social media ‘friends’. While the vast majority of children say they are confident about staying safe online, eight to 11-year-olds say they have never met around one in eight of their online ‘friends’ in person, rising to one in four for 12 to 15-year-olds – an average of 72 people per child. Yet one in ten parents say they do not have parental controls installed on computers, and 35 per cent do not have controls installed on mobile phones, as they don’t know how to do it.