Today’s kids are being called many names – digital natives, iGeneration, Net Generation – reflecting the rapid growth of technology during their childhood. In The Marketing Store’s Global Kids survey, we found that kids use a lot of technology and that many of their favorite activities involve electronic devices.  However, we also see that their ownership and the frequency with which they are using many of these devices are still catching up with these digital preconceptions.  Even in kids’ eyes, these devices are no substitute for “real, face-to-face physical interaction” with friends.  Looking for the vanguards in youth digital interaction?  Rather than look to the western world, perhaps we should look to developing countries.

Global Kids Enjoy Technology

When asked about their favorite activities in the survey, global kids’ top 3 choices involved electronics.

They also use a wide range of electronic devices.  As shown in the chart below, most global kids (aged 6-12) have experience with devices ranging from digital cameras to game consoles to mobile phones.  A substantial number also have used newer devices such as tablets and e- books.

Across most of these devices, usage rates are very similar for both younger (6-8) and older (9-12) kids.  The only exceptions here were tablets (40% v. 63%) and MP3 player/ iPod (65% v. 82%), which were used more often by older kids.

Kids Are Using Digital Devices For Many Activities

Similar to adults, kids use their digital devices for many different activities.   What’s the most popular activity?   Playing games!   This is the #1 thing that kids like to do on computers.   For mobile phones, it is almost as popular as the original purpose of “making calls”.

Watching video clips is also widely popular, thanks in part to YouTube – which happens to be the most popular website.  Kids, of course, love watching video clips – especially the funny ones. They are also increasingly using it as a “search engine” to find video clips on specific topics of interest. While many countries have some of their idiosyncratic favorites (e.g., for Poland and for Brazil), the other most popular websites (or destinations) include Facebook and Google.  It is true that some of the kids do have their own Facebook pages (often set up by an older siblings).  However, many of the kids are using their moms’ or a family member’s Facebook page – mostly to play games or keep in contact with distant relatives.

While this list is based on responses by kids across the globe, U.S. kids’ activity preferences mirror the rest of the world.  The only noteworthy difference is that American kids are more likely to do homework on the computer (83% vs. 76% for global).  From our qualitative observations and teacher focus groups, we suspect this partly reflects teachers’ attempt  to raise test scores by directing their students to educational websites (where they can practice math and reading skills).

As we would expect, how kids use their devices changes as they grow older.  While “playing games” and “watching video clips” remain the most popular things to do on the computer, older kids are more likely to use it for a broader range of activities.  Three activities that really increase with age are: doing school/homework, listening to music and surfing for fun.  (The later partly reflects relaxed parental restrictions).  In terms of mobile phone usage, older kids also use it for a wider array of activities.  But, the most significant difference is that older kids are much more likely to “text” (72% vs. 44%) than “make calls” (91% vs. 84%).


Kids’ Frequency of Usage and Ownership is Less than Expected

It is widely believed that kids are on their computer every day.  However, there are many more kids (aged 6-12) on their computers “3 or fewer days a week” compared to those on them daily.  As expected, frequency of usage increases as kids age, driven by their greater need and desire for the computer’s capabilities (e.g., for homework and for communication).  Still, only 39% of kids 9-12 years old are on the computer daily.  In terms of the amount of time kids are actually spending on the computer, it averages about 1 hour a day (7.4 hours per week for kids 6-12).

Furthermore, even though kids use many electronic devices, it doesn’t mean that they personally own the devices. With the exception of handheld gaming consoles, relatively few global kids actually have their own.

Looking at the U.S., these ownership numbers are fairly similar, except that game console ownership is significantly higher than the global average (46% vs. 35%); while non-smart mobile phone ownership is lower (27% vs. 37%).


Global Kids Mostly Receive Their Digital Devices as Gifts 

While kids spend their allowance on many things, electronic devices are likely not one of them. Instead of saving up or working for them, most kids say they get them as gifts. This is not surprising given their relatively high cost.


Contrary to Stereotypes, Kids’ Digital Usage is Often Social

While digital devices are often cast as “asocial”, it appears that’s not necessarily the case. Many moms (60% globally; 57% U.S.) agree that “technology keeps me close to my kids”. Our qualitative research concurs.  The major impetus for moms to provide their children with mobile phones is to keep in touch with them once they start becoming more independent.  We also find that a number of the primary activities that kids use digital devices for (e.g., calling, texting, sharing photos, playing games or chatting with others on the Internet) are inherently social.  Additionally, their top two websites have strong social elements. This is obvious for Facebook.  But, even for You Tube, kids love to share and bond by watching cool videos together.

When asked about various technology-enabled activities, there are clear social components.  Watching TV is mostly done with others, and so are playing video games and, to a lesser extent, surfing the Internet.  The one activity that tends to be more solitary is “listening to music”.

Not surprisingly, many of these activities are done with family members.  And it’s not just siblings.  Take video gaming.  Many kids are now playing videogames with their parents. For example, about a quarter (27%) of kids say they play videogames mostly with one or both parents.  There seems to be a direct correlation to the fact that many of today’s parents grew up playing videogames and they enjoy sharing their children’s passions.

Perhaps most importantly, digital devices have not taken away kids’ desires for “real, in-person contact”.  In fact, when we asked kids whether they prefer “talking to friends face to face” or “talking to friends through the computer or mobile phone”, MOST kids (89%) choose “face to face”.  This was true for both younger and older kids (92% for 6-8 year olds and 87% for 9-12 year olds).


Kids in Developing Countries are Leading in Technology

Looking at kids’ technology usage around the globe, we see that western nations are NOT leading the way.  Rather, kids in developing countries appear to be the vanguards.  By developing countries here, we’re referring to China, Brazil, Mexico and Poland.

One of the key differences is that kids in these developing countries are more technically savvy and better equipped.  For example, kids in developing countries are more likely to own mobile phones (54% vs. 29%).  And, parents in these countries often give their kids mobile phones at a very young age.  By the age of 6 years, at least one-fourth of kids in developing countries own a mobile phone (versus an average of 8% across the other countries).

Kids in developing countries also use computers more frequently. On average, they use computers 10.4 hours a week versus 6 hours a week (for kids in developed countries).

And, they use them for a wider range of activities (e.g., chat, making video calls, watching films, email).  In China, this has given rise to a high incidence of blogging. Over half (61% vs. 17% globally) of Chinese kids are blogging on tumblr, Twitter and other platforms. And, it has created “mini celebrities” like Han Han, a boy who wrote a novel on his blog when he was 8 years old.

Japan:  Living on a Different  Digital Curve?

Across nearly all technology measures in our global survey, Japanese children fall short.  Not only are they less likely to own many of the electronic devices; they are also less likely to have experience in using them.  There is one exception: handheld video gaming devices.  We hypothesize that this reflects the deep historical roots of handheld videogames in Japan and that their devices have sometimes offered greater functionality, obviating the need for additional devices.  For example,  kids who acquired the PS Go in 2009 (which allows internet browsing, movie watching, playing music and reading books/comics) did not need a number of other electronic gadgets.


Based on these findings, a few things to keep in mind when marketing to kids are:

– Don’t assume an all-digital world for your young consumers.  Traditional communication and tangible interactions/engagements are still an important part of the marketing mix (and, in some cases may be a primary differentiator).

–  Escalating usage and ownership of devices will require marketers to integrate digital mediums into their marketing effort in both traditional (e.g., web page, banners, etc.) and non-traditional (game integration, shopper tools) ways.  Not surprisingly, play and mobile technologies should be critical elements to drive engagement.

–   When playing in the digital arena, make sure that a parent/guardian is brought along.  Not only is it a hallmark of responsible marketing, but it also strengthens the relationship between your brand and a critical gatekeeper/influencer.

–  Rather than having your markets in developing countries follow the digital plans/campaigns of their developed country counterparts, consider having them lead.

–   Given the gap between ownership and usage, many electronic devices remain a compelling prize/reward option for kids worldwide.

  • Joshua

    This article looks great, could you please tell me the methodology and sample that was used for this research?

  • Matt Dyer

    its a goof article but do you have more recent data and like Joshua posted what methodology and sample did you use?