Life online: Children’s media lives through the pandemic

You don’t need to be a social researcher to know that the past year has been hard for children. By the third lockdown it was clear to most of us that Netflix and Zoom calls were a poor substitute for spending time with others face-to-face.

In every phase of Children’s Media Lives work for Ofcom our researchers wonder if children are spending a bit too much time on their phones or gaming devices, whether it’s good for them, and if they might be missing out on things you can’t do online – even if the children seem a lot less concerned. This time we didn’t need to wonder because the children were entirely aware, and the consequences were obvious.

Talking to the children we’ve built relationships with over years is something every researcher who works on Children’s Media Lives looks forward to. The window they give us into their worlds is invariably fascinating and their character and enthusiasm for life always rubs off on the team. This time the enjoyment of the project was tempered by what we learned. While children of all ages did their best to put a brave face on things, they also talked about being in contact with fewer friends, feeling like they were missing out on learning and a general sense of being ground down by endless days filled with TikTok, Netflix and online gaming.

Without digital technology things could of course have been far worse, but for us the big learning from the forced ‘deprivation study’ of much of the last year is that: however engaging children find technology, there are some things they still need and value far more.

There is of course much more in the report about how children are using technology, the ongoing rise of the filtered selfie, engagement with live streaming, YouTube fitness fads, and Netflix binging. 

We’d obviously recommend reading the report, but if you would prefer to have a conversation about what we’ve learned please do get in touch – it’s a subject we will never get bored of discussing.