From Survive to Thrive:

Supporting digital family life after lockdown

In this report, we asked parents about their children’s use of technology, their concerns and attitudes to their children’s online lives and perceptions of the impact on their wellbeing.

Carolyn Bunting

CEO, Internet Matters

Message from the CEO

Without a doubt, the last 12 months have been incredibly challenging for families as they’ve grappled with the impact of lockdown restrictions on their day-to-day lives. As the world came to a standstill we felt a sizeable shift in their reliance upon and use of technology, with it becoming a lifeline to continue to connect to the outside world. Our report gives us an interesting perspective on a unique period in time for families everywhere and how we can better support them as we move forward.”

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Well over a year on from the first cases of Covid-19 and now into the second year of restrictions in the UK, it comes as no surprise that many children and their parents and carers increasingly used screens to connect to the outside world. Technology was a lifeline for us all, allowing us to connect with family and friends, for children to be educated through home learning and for everyone to be entertained and have fun in these uncertain times.

At regular intervals between January 2020 and March 2021, we asked parents about their Children’s use of technology, their concerns, and attitudes to their children’s online lives, and perceptions of the impact on their wellbeing. This study gives us a unique view into how the family relationship with technology has changed from the pre-pandemic world through various periods of lockdown and adjustment to a new way of living virtually.

In March 2021 we supplemented this with some additional research questions, asking parents to reflect on the positive and negative aspects of this increased reliance on the connected home. This allows us to look forward to what help parents now need and how we can best support them as UK Covid restrictions start to lift.

Our research tells a story with two key parts. Parents have recognised the true benefits of connected technology through each successive period of lockdown. It is indeed hard to imagine what would have happened without it and where families would be now. Though a positive story exists, with more time in front of a screen, parents are increasingly concerned about their children encountering harm online and have noticed an increase in online activities particularly live streaming as well as spending money online. A recurring theme throughout the report is the overwhelming insight that children with some form of offline vulnerability have been disproportionately affected by the impact of Covid-19 in relation to technology use and its effects. They need our support more than ever to enable them to have a safer online experience and to thrive in the digital world as the physical world opens up again for us all.

Read the full report

Methodology

All participants were carefully screened to ensure they met the required criteria to take part and were suitable for this research.

The Internet Matters Parents Tracker has been running since 2017 with three waves of research being conducted each year. In each wave we interview 2,000 parents of children aged 5-16 across a broad sociodemographic background, on their children’s digital usage, their specific concerns and experience of online harm and their own mediation techniques. To allow us to reflect on changes since before the Covid pandemic, this report uses data from the last 4 waves of the survey undertaken in January 2020, May 2020, October 2020 and March 2021.

For the wave conducted in March 2021, we included a specific set of questions about the impact of the pandemic to better understand parents’ behaviours, attitudes and perception of their children’s wellbeing during this time period. Within the survey a child with vulnerabilities is defined by their parent or carer as registered disabled; having registered Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) status or an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP); having a registered carer/receiving a Carer’s Allowance or having received professional medical treatment for mental health issues.

We recognise that every child is different and every child can be vulnerable – especially online. Further, facing offline vulnerabilities is not necessarily a static or permanent state. The data points in this report come from parents and carers talking about their children in this unprecedented time.

What you'll find in the report

  • What children have been doing online
  • How parents feel about their children’s online world
  • How children with vulnerabilities have been most impacted
  • How families adapted to the virtual school
  • What next? Looking ahead

Key stats and figures

  • Parents have reported a 32% increase in screen time usage on weekdays (from an average of 2.2 hours per weekday last year to 2.9 hours in March 2021)
  • 61% of parents say their children play games online on their own and 48% against others
  • Watching live broadcasts had a 43% increase year on year or actively broadcasting their own videos
  • There was an 89% increase year on year of children actively broadcasting their own videos
  • 42% increase in spending money online, which includes game credits as well as online shopping and app purchases
  • Over half of parents (56%) say their children’s online world has had a positive impact on their lives since the pandemic began
  • More than half of parents (53%) agree that their child has become too reliant on online technology
  • 80% agreed that technology has been a good tool for online learning and 78% saw the positive impact it had on allowing their children to socialise, stay connected, and be entertained
  • Two in five parents (39%) found themselves leaving their children alone with their devices for much longer periods of time than usual
  • Nearly a quarter (23%) of parents of vulnerable children report that their child has experienced online bullying
  • 47% of parents of vulnerable children told us that children have become more anxious as a result of spending more time online over the last 12 months

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