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CyberTots: Pre-teens Drive iPad Purchases, Join Social Networks

Ipsos Study Finds Digital Milestones Increasingly Important in Child Development -- and Will Reshape Media, Marketing Expectations

By Published on . 3

If you thought of Generation Y as the digital generation, wait till you get a load of their kids.

Ten percent of households with children aged 6-12 and pre-schoolers have iPads, according to Ipsos.
Ten percent of households with children aged 6-12 and pre-schoolers have iPads, according to Ipsos. Credit: AP

Pre-teen and even pre-school children are key drivers for adoption of the iPad and other tablet computers, and a substantial number of kids, including two in five 11 and 12 year olds, now regularly use social networks even though they're technically not allowed, according to the LMX Family study conducted in early February by Ipsos OTX.

Ipsos also found pre-schoolers adopting digital habits or being exposed to new devices even faster than tweens, a sign of the speed with which digital technology is reshaping media and marketing habits for the youngest children. Of households with preschoolers, 38% had handheld gaming devices vs. only 24% among those with children aged 6-12. Preschool households also held an edge in laptops (82% to 76%), gaming consoles (76% to 63%) and internet-capable cellphones (69% to 65%).

The study, based on online interviews of 2,080 children and 715 parents demographically and geographically representative of the U.S. between Jan. 31 and Feb. 14, found 10% of households with children aged 6-12 and pre-schoolers have iPads vs. only 3% of other households without pre-teen children. Ipsos also found 27% of households with kids aged 6-12 plan to purchase an iPad and 35% some brand of tablet computer in the next year.

The youngest children have the most exposure to digital technology because they're more likely to have Gen Y parents shaping their expectations, said Donna Sabino, senior VP-kids and family insights for Ipsos OTX.

"We talk of parents as the first teachers," she said. "That's not just for ABC's and 123's. It's for everything including media. If you're a digital native parent and have a smartphone that accesses the internet and gets apps, it's not out of the realm of possibility for you to introduce your child to that when they're 1, 2 or 3."

Over half the parents in the survey say their children should be able to go online on their own by age 6, and by 5 should be able to play games on a cellphone or on a console or listen to a portable music player on their own.

"One of the things that jumped out is the way technology is adding new milestones to kids' developmental progression," Ms. Sabino said. "In addition to first steps, first words, first day of school, first trip to the mall on your own, there are also these technology milestones."

By 11, half of kids have cellphones, and half the time it's the parents' idea, the study found. The cellphone has become a sort of electronic tether that makes parents feel more secure giving their children more freedom, Ms. Sabino said.

Though membership in Facebook and social networks is technically limited to age 13 and up, 23% of kids 6-12 regularly visit social networking sites, and 41% of 11- to 12-year-olds do so, the study found.

IPads and Facebook alike have been portrayed or marketed as things for teens and adults, but modern parents don't necessarily see things that way, Ms. Sabino said.

"It's kind of a theme with this generation of parents that it depends less on how something is marketed than what they feel the application and functionality can bring to their household," she said.

In the case of the iPad, she believes the child factor is helping to close the sale.

"When you're making a purchase like that, you're looking for reasons," she said. "Having a kid gives it an extra push. It can be an e-reader. It's an all-in-one functional family device. When you know they're going to be multiple users in the household, it makes it easier to commit to the new technology."

Much of that pre-teen visitation of social networks is with mom or dad, who are also frequently going to YouTube with their children, Ms. Sabino said, helping them look for appropriate content. While 94% of parents said they watch TV with their children, almost as many, 87%, said they go online with their children.

The data challenge the conventional wisdom that TV is the sort of shared electronic hearth and online is for individual pursuits. "We tend to not think of [YouTube] as a co-entertainment source," Ms. Sabino is. "But parents and kids are telling us that it is."

Going on social networks with kids is part of how parents have gotten over the fear of online predators, she said, with 79% of parents saying they friend their pre-teens on their social networks.

That same parental intervention can be found with cellphones, though parents are more protective of girls than boys. Ipsos found 81% of parents of girls aged 6-12 who have cellphones have checked their daughters' text messages, vs. 71% of parents of boys that age.

Yet many parents are also quite laissez-faire in some areas of media content -- provided they're along for the ride. Ispos found 36% of parents let their boys aged 9-12 play electronic games rated "mature" and 18% let the boys play games rated "adult," provided they do so with parents. Only 8% let the boys play M-rated games alone and only 2% let them play A-rated games alone.

Ipsos also found 20% of parents let children aged 6-12 see R-rated movies, as long as they do so with mom or dad, vs. only 2% who let kids that age see R-rated movies alone.

Whatever the rating or the device, digital media is ruling a growing share of kids' lives. Kids 6-12 spent on average 5.3 hours daily with all forms of media in the first quarter of 2011, up from 4.9 hours in a study conducted in the first quarter of 2008, according to Ipsos. Electronic gaming of various forms drove almost all that increase. That comes even though they're getting a bit more sleep -- 10.6 hours on average last quarter vs. 10.4 in 2008.

Multitasking has added a lot of media time, with these tweens now multitasking with media more than three hours a day. Among all children under 13, 77% said they eat while watching TV, while 36% go online and 24% do homework. The share who do homework while watching TV, however, is down from 34% in the fourth quarter of 2009. The tweens, not surprisingly, are bigger multitaskers than the preschoolers, with 61% saying they play games by themselves and 30% saying they visit social networks while watching TV.

Continued growth of multitasking has big implications for advertising creative as these children age, Ms. Sabino said. "The question is, What will you create to ensure they attend to you?"

Age 3 overall appears to be a major milestone in media usage, as children largely leave their non-digital toys behind. For tots up to age 2, playing with toys is the favorite activity for 45%, according to their parents in the Ipsos study. By 3-5, toys are the favorite activity of only 27%, with gaming (electronic or online) or other online pursuits the favorite activity of 22%.

The early age at which kids are exposed to sophisticated electronic devices will reshape marketing and media expectations quickly, Ms. Sabino said.

"People laugh when they see 3 and 4 year olds who are used to smartphones or tablet touch-screen devices going up to a laptop and touching the screen to make it move," she said. "When I see that, I think the technology is already obsolete for her. Her expectation is that all her interface with media is going to be intuitive, something she can touch. It's a history of the future right now -- what are we teaching them to expect from us going forward?"

By the Numbers

  • 18% of parents will let their tween boys aged 9-12 play video games rated adult only, and 36% will let them play games rated mature, provided a parent is playing too.
  • 20% of parents will let children 6-12 go with them to R rated movies.
  • 23% of children 6-12 regularly visit social networking sites and 41% of kids 11-12 do so, though membership in the sites is supposed to be limited to 13 and up.
  • By age 11, half of kids have cellphones. Half of the time it's the parents' idea.
  • Kids in the household are huge drivers of iPad penetration. 10% of households with children under 13 now have iPads, vs. only 3% in households without children 6-12.
  • 35% of households with children 6-12 plan to purchase some brand of tablet computer in the next year.
  • Over half of parents say their children should be able to go online on their own by age 6.
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