Tots Join Tweens in Digital Realm

Study Finds Use of Electronic Devices Is Up Among Kids, and Games Lead Children to Use Technology at Younger Ages

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YORK, Pa. ( -- Preschoolers are going digital -- some as young as 2 years old. According to the NPD Group's latest annual study of kids and digital, 82% of children ages 2 to 5 play video games on some type of digital device.

Credit: Michele Constantini
While that's not a huge leap from the 79% of that age group that played last year, it represents an ongoing and upward march for tots. "The point here was to show that gaming serves as an introductory activity to the digital world," said Anita Frazier, an NPD analyst and one of the main authors of "Kids and Digital Content III," in an e-mail interview. "It's just an eye-opening statistic that there are so many very young kids playing games via a digital device."

Of course, the littlest ones are far from alone. Kids in general are not only gaming more but watching more TV and movies, using cellphones, and listening to music on electronic devices. Some 85% of children play video games, 60% listen to music on digital devices, 37% watch movies and 22% download ringtones, all one- to four-percentage-point increases from last year.

"There was an increase, even if only slight, across each of the 10 activities surveyed. So it's clear that kids are turning to digital sources more and more for their entertainment needs," Ms. Frazier said.

While all that digital use among kids isn't a surprise to anyone who has one or knows one, there were still many notes of interest in the comprehensive study.

"From the perspective of anyone over the age of 30, I think the sheer prevalence of digital devices in kids' lives is at the same time eye-opening and something that was expected and confirmed," Ms. Frazier said. "Why? We see it all around us, and so we're not surprised, yet we react with a little bit of that 'wow' factor as we think of the implications of how this affects marketing to kids, or reaching them at all."

NPD conducted the study online in October with more than 3,600 women with a child age 2 to 14 in their households. Each was asked to have the child join her while taking the study.

Ad Age asked Ms. Frazier to pick out some specific highlights from the NPD study, while also digging in to some other recent digital studies of similar age groups to show marketers, and "anyone over the age of 30," just what kids today are up to.

All in one

While adults have their beloved iPhone, the coveted converged music player, gaming device and cellphone, kids are creating similar mash-ups. More and more are using video-game devices to watch movies, using cellphones to listen to music and send or receive images, and using portable music devices to watch music videos. Although NPD Group's Anita Frazier declined to give specifics, she said it was notable that 12% of the time kids spend with gaming devices is spent watching movies. "In the past, convergence-oriented devices just didn't do all the varied functions all that well, and I think it's an improvement in the devices themselves that is allowing convergence to really start to show itself," she said.

Girls rule

Girls are finally catching up to boys in playing video games, watching movies and TV shows, and listening to digital music. The only area of increase for boys vs. last year's study was watching TV shows. Girls in particular are also driving video-game growth: 57 % now use video-game systems vs. 50% in 2006. Why now? "For video games, audience expansion was a big theme for the year, driven by the availability of more-diverse content, and girls were one of the audiences that were served up with that content," Ms. Frazier said.

Tween and teen time

While the littlest kids are in the digital game, it is the 9- to 14-year-olds driving the overall digital boom. More than 85% (up from 80%) use a gaming system; 60% (up from 51%) use a portable digital-music player; and 51% (up from 49%) use a cellphone. Only computer usage was down, to 92% from 94%. Ms. Frazier characterized this older group as the "pioneers" of digital-device and -content adoption, and said she expects those increases to flow down to the younger set over time.

Sent by an ad

MRI released a study last month that found kids are increasingly going to the internet to look up products they see in ads. More than 46% of children 6 to 11 visited a website they read or heard about in an ad. Boys and girls were just as likely to go in search of more info online after seeing an ad, but kids ages 10 to 11 were more likely than younger children to go online (40% vs. 26% of 6- to 7-year-olds). Interestingly, all of the kids who clicked were more likely to live in a household "where there are no rules placed on which sites the kids can or cannot visit."

You so don't get me

Surprise! Using the internet is good for children, at least for the kids and teens queried by researchers at the MacArthur Foundation. Kids develop important "social and technical skills online -- often in ways adults do not understand or value," according to the November report. Youths are more motivated to learn from each other online than they are from adults, and although many use the internet socially, they do not take advantage of the diverse learning opportunities online, the study's authors reported.

Totally mobile

In a recent study about the potential for education on mobile devices, Sesame Workshop's Joan Ganz Cooney Center noted that 93% of children ages 6 to 9 live in a household with a cellphone, and a whopping 30% of them own their own cellphones. More than 50% had their own portable video-game devices and 20% had their own digital-music players.

Tube time

Kids still love to watch TV. However, they're not as tied to the box in the living room as previous generations. For instance, of the 10 digital activities NPD asked about, the one that increased the most over last year was watching TV shows digitally -- whether on computers, video-game devices, music players or cellphones -- jumping overall to 22% from 17% last year.

I want my digital content

Kids were much more likely this year to get their content digitally, with TV leading the way. Eighty percent of kids downloaded TV shows this year vs. 68% last year. Music was next, with 77% downloading music vs. 67% last year. Digital acquisition of video games increased to 40% (from 38%), and movies went up to 33% (from 27%). Ms. Frazier noted there were at least slight increases in all seven areas measured.

Watching online

Nielsen Online this summer found that kids spent more time watching online video than adults. Kids age 12 to 17 watched an average of 132 minutes of online video per month, and 2- to 11-year-olds watched an average of 118 minutes. Adults over 18 watched only 99 minutes. Younger kids watched video at online toy and TV-programming favorites such as Disney Records,, MyePets, Jetix and Playhouse Disney, while the teen group watched on music and movie sites such as Stickam, Buzznet, Atlantic Records and Epic Records.
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