Insights Ofcom publishes annual study of children’s media and online lives


The study shows that more parents and carers than ever feel children’s online use now carries more risks than benefits.

Parents and carers are becoming more likely to trust their children with greater digital independence at a younger age. However, far fewer believe the benefits of their child being online outweigh the risks than five years ago (55%, down from 65% in 2015). And around two million parents now feel the internet does their children more harm than good.

This comes as children are now more likely to see hateful content online. Half (51%) of 12-15s who go online had seen hateful content in the last year, an increase from 34% in 2016.

Parents are increasingly concerned about their child seeing content that might encourage them to harm themselves (45%, up from 39% in 2018). Similarly, two gaming-related problems are increasingly concerning parents: the pressure on their child to make in-game purchases of things like “loot boxes”, a virtual item containing rewards (47%, up from 40%); and the possibility of their child being bullied via online games (39%, up from 32%).

However, parents are now more likely than in 2018 to speak to their children about staying safe online (85%, up from 81%). They are also nearly twice as likely to go online themselves for support and information about keeping their children safe than a year before (21%, up from 12%).

Looking at what today’s children are doing online, Ofcom has uncovered three notable online trends over the last year:

  • the “Greta effect”: almost a fifth (18%, up from 12% in a year) of 12-15s use social media to express support for causes and organisations, potentially environmental, political or charitable, by sharing or commenting on posts. One in ten signed petitions on social media;
  • rise of the “vlogger next door”: while high-profile YouTube stars remain popular, children are now increasingly drawn to influencers like them. Known as “micro” or “nano” influencers, they often have fewer followers. They might be local to a child’s area, or share a niche interest;
  • girl gamers on the increase: almost half of girls aged 5-15 now play games online, a big rise from 39% in 2018. The proportion of boy gamers is unchanged at 71%, but boys spend twice as long playing online each week (14 hours 36 minutes vs. 7 hours 30 minutes).

To read Ofcom’s news release in full and for a link to the study, click here.