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As half term in Britain continues, the sight of teens and tweens constantly connected to social networking sites and devices will be a familiar one to many of the nation’s parents. But new research from Mintel highlights the influence of social networking on traditional forms of social engagement for this age group as, today, some 15% of 10-15-year-olds in the UK are afraid to be left out of their social circle if they’re not always on Facebook or Twitter. This equates to over 500,000, or half a million, children, and the proportion peaks at 21% among 14 year olds.

Today, 60% of those aged 10-15 say that they use a social networking website or app – with 39% of those aged 10 claiming to do so, 43% of those aged 11 and 54% of those aged 12. This number increases even further for 13 year olds (73%, 14 year olds (79%), peaking at 80% of 15 year olds.

Indeed, highlighting the positive impact that today’s young people feel social media brings, some 22% of children aged 10-15 feel more free to express themselves online, 18% say that their social networking profile or page says a lot about them or describes them best, and 17% claim to spend a lot of time and effort on their social networking profile or page

And it seems that this age group is also fully equipped with the technology to connect – a quarter (25%) of all 10 year olds own a smartphone, a figure that rapidly rises with age. Some four in ten (39%) 12 year olds are smartphone owners, peaking at six in ten (60%) 15 year olds. Meanwhile some 45% of 10-15-year-olds use a tablet device in the home, significantly exceeding the 36% overall household tablet penetration in the UK.

Harry Segal, Consumer Research Analyst at Mintel, said:

“Our research highlights the impact that social networks are having on the teens and tweens age group and the pressure they feel to remain connected. There is a burgeoning interdependence between real life relationships and online interactions among younger generations, and a strong level of demand among children to use social networking sites. In light of this, and the high number of children aged under-13 using them, popular social networks should perhaps focus on providing a safe environment for children, rather than imposing a 13+-only policy that today’s tech-savvy tweens find almost trivially easy to circumvent.”

Widespread parental concerns

Today, four in ten (39%) of children aged 10-15 are friends with their parents on Facebook, and 27% text or call their parents several times a day. However, Mintel’s research into teens’ and tweens’ technology usage also reveals the concerns that parent have on their children’s online behaviour.

As many as two thirds (66%) of parents with children aged 10 to 15 years old are concerned about children interacting with strangers online. This concern is closely followed by fear that their child will be exposed to explicit content online (64%). Worry about cyber bullying online (52%) makes up the top three parental technology concerns. Furthermore, four in ten (42%) of these parents are concerned about children inadvertently spending money online, within a game or within an app, while 38% worry about health risks posed to their child from spending too long using a device.  Just 10% of parents are not concerned about any of these issues.

“While explicit content online is nothing new, the rise of social networking likely serves to heighten parental concern over their children engaging with strangers online, particularly as social networks are not commonly blocked by default by parental security software. Whereas previous generations were exposed to ‘specialist devices’ such as digital cameras, music players and games consoles one at a time – now parents give their child one ‘multi-functional’ device which gives them personal online access from an early age. So, where desktop computers previously kept children’s online interactions in a communal area of the home, the rise of mobile devices means that parents find it more difficult to keep track of what their child is looking at and who their child is engaging with online.” Harry continues.

But while concerns about technology safety ride high, parents are largely willing to grant their children autonomy over their digital activities. More than half (53%) of teens’ and tweens’ parents  trust their children to use their devices without supervision, this declines slightly to those parents of 10 year olds (41%).  In contrast however, today, one in seven (14%) parents admit they simply don’t have the time to keep an eye on their children’s digital activities, and 13% only let their child use a device when they are in the room.  One in ten (10%) always try out a game app before their child uses it.

For more information, please contact Sian Brenchley, Monica Trombini or Amanda Lintott
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