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Not sure what to get your child for his or her next birthday? Forget the dolls and toy race cars. Think laptop. While just 3 percent of kids ages 8 to 15 say they already have their own notebook computer, 1 in 5 wants one as their next birthday present, according to recent findings. Girls between the ages of 12 and 15 are especially interested in the computer-as-accessory idea: A quarter of them are hoping mom and dad will make this birthday wish come true.

To better understand how kids use technology and how they feel about it, The Taylor Research and Consulting Group, based in Portsmouth, N.H., conducted an online survey of 871 children between the ages of 8 and 15 in August and September 2002. To highlight the difference between genders as well as between older and younger kids, the survey is broken down into four segments: younger boys and younger girls (ages 8 to 11); older boys and older girls (ages 12 to 15).

Contrary to expectations, the survey finds older girls more active computer users than their male peers. Fully 81 percent of these girls say they spend time online at least once a week, and 59 percent spend time online every day, compared with 74 percent and 41 percent of the boys in that age group. Older girls are also more likely than older boys to have a “buddy list� to whom they send instant messages (79 percent versus 61 percent), and they are almost twice as likely to send an instant message to their friends on a daily basis (49 percent versus 27 percent).

Besides communication, today's kids use the Internet as a supplement to their favorite entertainment activity: watching TV. Almost all older kids (87 percent) say they watch TV every day, and almost three-quarters (73 percent) say that they visit Web sites related to the TV shows they watch. Of older boys and girls who visit TV show Web sites, 90 percent do so after watching a program; 26 percent log on before the show, and 19 percent watch and surf at the same time.

The biggest reason older boys say they log on to TV show sites is to play games related to the program: 71 percent of them do so, compared with 64 percent of older girls. The girls, on the other hand, go online to find out more about a show's characters or actors (68 percent versus 59 percent of the boys), to find out what's going to happen on upcoming shows (55 percent versus 42 percent) or to get information on shows they have missed (50 percent versus 35 percent).

Online shopping, however, is where today's kids — especially girls — draw the line. When asked whether they prefer shopping at the mall or shopping over the Internet, 94 percent of all girls say they still prefer being mall rats. Interestingly, boys were not as adamant. While the majority (79 percent) of all boys certainly prefer trolling the mall, a fifth (21 percent versus just 6 percent of girls) say they'd rather shop online. Apparently, male mall avoidance begins earlier than we realized.

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As they age, girls give up their phones for Internet chatter. Yet for all the time girls spend online, they'd still rather play outside than be indoors playing video games.


Talk to friends on the phone 80% 54%
Talk to friends online 20% 46%
Play outside 80% 76%
Play video games 20% 25%
Source: The Taylor Research and Consulting Group


Almost two-thirds (63 percent) of kids ages 8 to 15 say that they worry “a lot� about strangers trying to contact them through the Internet. Younger boys (ages 8 to 11) are particularly concerned (73 percent). Even among older children, boys are seemingly more unsettled than girls. Sixty-seven percent of boys ages 12 to 15 worry a lot about strangers contacting them online, compared with less than half (47 percent) of their female peers.


Strangers trying to contact me through the Internet 73% 64% 67% 47%
Being pressured by other kids to use drugs or alcohol 60% 57% 50% 44%
Being bullied or bothered by other kids 34% 37% 46% 46%
Having a girlfriend or boyfriend 52% 43% 20% 15%
How my parents treat each other 34% 25% 37% 31%
My weight or how I look 35% 28% 23% **
Being popular at school 26% 25% 21% 18%
Being safe in my neighborhood or town 25% ** 25% 18%
Being good at sports ** 24% ** 27%
Wearing cool clothes 18% 16% 18% **
**Sample size too small Source: The Taylor Research and Consulting Group
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