- UK media regulator Ofcom has identified what it calls “The Greta effect,” whereby British children in 2019 were more likely to have used social media for activism purposes than in the previous year.
- Ofcom’s study was based on more than 3,500 interviews with children and parents around the UK.
- The study also found that 50% of British 10-year-olds owned a smartphone in 2019, while almost a quarter of 3- and 4-year-olds had their own tablet.
- The study found that alongside the positive effect digital devices can have, parents are increasingly worried by issues including self-harm content and in-app purchases.
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UK media regulator Ofcom has identified what it calls “The Greta Effect,” whereby British children’s use of social media to engage in online activism has increased significantly.
The study was based on more than 3,500 interviews with British children and parents, investigating digital media use and attitudes among UK children aged 5 to 15 in 2019.
It found that compared to 2018, more children were likely to support organisations or social causes on social media, citing an uptick from 12% to 18%. It also found 10% of 12- to 15-year olds had signed a social media petition over the last year. Ofcom dubbed this “The Greta Effect.”
Greta Thunberg’s 2019 was especially impactful, with the Swedish activist giving a number of high-profile speeches and receiving TIME magazine’s person of the year award for her environmental activism.
The study also found that half of UK 10-year-olds had their own smartphone, while almost a quarter of young children aged 3 to 4 had their own tablet.
Alongside the fact that children are increasingly using their devices to engage with social and political causes, Ofcom noted that parental concerns around issues like harmful content and online bullying persist.
In particular, the report suggested an increase in parental worries surrounding self-harm (almost 50% of parents surveyed reported this compared 39% in 2018), in-game spending (47% compared to 40% in 2018) and game-related bullying (up to 39% from 32%).
UK parents’ concerns aren’t as extreme as those held by parents in ultra-connected Silicon Valley, however. Perhaps taking their cue from Silicon Valley icons Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, many parents in the Bay Area are restricting or simply banning screen time for their children.
The World Health Organisation recently advised parents to limit screentime to just one hour a day for children under five, while children below the age of one should spend no time in front of a screen.
Commenting on the study’s findings, Ofcom’s strategy and research group director, Yih-Choung Teh, said: “Today’s children have never known life without the internet, but two million parents now feel the internet causes them more harm than good.
“So it’s encouraging that parents, carers and teachers are now having more conversations than ever before with children about online safety.
“Education and stronger regulation will also help children to embrace their digital independence, while protecting them from the risks,” he added.