Six in ten children played games online in the UK last year, according to Ofcom’s latest report into the use of media amongst children and parents.
While a minority of 3-4s (18%) and 5-7s (38%) played online, 69% of 8-11s and 75% of 12-17 year olds took part in online play.
Boys were more likely than girls to play online, but both were still likely to do so with 66% of boys and 51% of girls taking part.
How do children play online in the UK?
Games consoles were the most commonly used device to play online, with 59% of children using them. More than half of children played online games with a mobile device (54%), with only three in ten children playing games online through a desktop.
Interestingly, the majority of children who played online did so with someone they knew. 72% played online games with people they knew versus just a third who they didn’t know.
Out of those who did play online, three quarters aged 8-17 chatted with the people they played with through messaging or a headset. The majority (67%) spoke with someone that they knew, a third with people they had met through the game and a minority (16%) with strangers.
What do parents think about online games in the UK?
More parents believed that the benefits of online play outweighed the risk, with 38% agreeing and 22% disagreeing. A further 40% of parents took a neutral stance about online play, meaning that 78% of parents did not agree that online play carried more risk than benefits.
Importantly, parental concern about online game focused around interactions in games. 59% of parents were worried about their children speaking to strangers, 52% were worried about bullying and 51% were concerned about children being pressured into making in game purchases.
However, the research also found that nearly nine in ten parents (87%) have in place at least one rule to govern the way their children play.
The most common rules surrounded in game purchases with 65% of parents putting in place rules to limit spending. Over 50% of parents also had rules about when children could play, what they could play (both in terms of age rating and content) and play time, but the report didn’t indicate how many parents have rules about who their children can speak to.
Interestingly, half of children aged 3-17 who play games online do so with a parent. However, this was more likely amongst younger age groups with eight in ten 3-4 year olds playing with a parent compared to four in ten 12-17s – likely a natural consequence of parents giving greater freedom to their children as they grow up.
How can I learn about managing screen time, spend or communication in online games?
We have produced a range of resources to help different audiences learn about managing screen time, spend and communication in online games.
Parents can learn all about these topics at askaboutgames.com, using its practical guides to learn about each area, activate parental controls to help manage each effectively and learn tips on how to set rules with children.
Teachers can also head to Digital Schoolhouse’s website to download free lesson plans that teach children about screen time, spend, age ratings and staying safe online.
Read Ofcom’s report in full here.