Safer Internet Day study on younger children's digital media use

  • Awareness
  • 28/02/2020
  • Austrian Safer Internet Centre

For Safer Internet Day, the Austrian Safer Internet Centre (SIC) released a study on the digital media habits of children aged 0-6.

It catches our attention on the bus, on the playground, and in restaurants: almost every younger child uses a smartphone. The Austrian SIC therefore decided to explore when Austrian children make their first steps online, what challenges and risks their parents consider relevant, and how we may ensure a safe use of the internet among this age group.

To do so, a quantitative online survey was conducted among parents with small children (aged 0-6) in Austria. The respondents use the internet on a regular basis: nearly every parent has a smartphone in use and most households report having four to five digital devices with an internet connection. On average, the respondents are online two hours per day for private use. Unsurprisingly, their children go online too – 72 per cent of children under 6 use digital media, with 24 per cent using it on a daily basis and 33 per cent several times a week. According to the parents, 38 per cent of the children know how to use the devices by themselves.

Half of these children use devices that belong to their parents. This can cause problems, notably with personalised commercials. 22 per cent of the children aged 0-6 have their own device, while 28 per cent use a device which belongs to all family members, such as "family tablets".

How do these children use the internet?

The most popular activity reported is to watch videos and look at pictures. Older children (aged 3-6) also listen to music and play games. Toddlers talk to family members via video chat. The most preferred and used devices are tablets and smartphones.

A new generation of parents

The parents of young children are digitally active, at least having smartphones which they use extensively and regularly. This generation of parents grew up in a digitally connected world, but only received limited support and guidance from their parents regarding the proper use of digital devices. Now, as parents, they cannot refer to their own childhood media education, since it was then focused on television mostly.

Therefore, parents develop their own guidance activities: 49 per cent do not allow their children to use digital tools on their own, 44 per cent set time restrictions and 39 per cent use technical settings. 30 per cent rely on conversations with their children about how to use the internet. In sum, the parents are satisfied with their approaches and do not consider that their children run risks online.

Only 14 per cent report that their child uses digital devices for rituals to calm down. Only 11 per cent of parents consider that their child can keep remain engaged without a digital device. 20 per cent feel bad about the duration of their child's online activities. They are not so positive about the age group in general, since 49 per cent fear that children aged 0-6 spend too much time online.

Digital devices cause conflicts

Parents do not always share a common vision for their child's online activities: 23 per cent report having had conflicts on the matter with the other parent. And even 17 per cent of the children complain about their parents or other grownups' online activities.

Photos are online even before birth

Parents share a lot of photos of their children. 30 per cent of the respondents indicate that they shared even ultrasound pictures. Every second parent shares photos at least once a week. In other words, about 37 million photos of children aged 0-6 are shared every year in Austria.

Fight the digital pacifier!

Even though parents are aware of being a role model, they do not always act accordingly, using a smartphone while spending time with a child, prioritising the smartphone over the child, swiping through the smartphone when bored. Children observe and learn these habits. Thus, it is important to strengthen the parents' awareness of their own habits with digital devices. How to use technical settings should only be the start in media education. It is much more important to guide children's competent online behavior by living a balanced online and offline life.

For more information, view the infographic "Children under 6 years and digital media" (in English) which summarises the findings of the study, and visit the Austrian Safer Internet Day profile page.

Find out more information about the work of the Austrian Safer Internet Centre (SIC) generally, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.

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  • Portuguese Safer Internet Centre

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