Australian families with children are ‘media-rich’, research finds

Australian families with children are media-rich, with multiple communications devices in the home; they value the internet and are striking a comfortable balance in their children’s use of media, according to research released today by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.The Media and Communications in Australian Families 2007 report surveyed a representative sample of 751 family households with children aged between 8 and 17 to gauge media use in the home, how young people divide their leisure time and how parents view their children’s use of media and communications technologies. The report also includes a review of academic research about the influences of media and communications activities on children.’It is natural for parents today to be concerned that their child may be vulnerable to media risks,’ said Chris Chapman, ACMA Chairman.’And there are many groups and individuals in society who are very concerned that there are not enough checks on access to media content that may be harmful to children.’It’s also natural for the communications sector to be worried that government regulation is going to stifle innovation and impede existing and emerging business models.’Ultimately it’s the government’s role to address all of these concerns and strike an appropriate balance.’I believe this research gives the government a first-rate snapshot of Australian families with children aged 8 – 17, the group of households that is leading the charge into the new communications world and therefore the households most vulnerable to any potentially negative media influences.’As such, the study provides a sound empirical base for thinking about children and young people’s use of electronic media and communications and informing policy settings in regulating content across media platforms.’The report found that in relation to the families surveyed:

  • Most families with children aged 8 to 17 have three or more televisions in their home and three or more mobile phones. Almost every family home has a computer (98 per cent) and DVD player (97 per cent).
  • Nine-in-ten family homes with children have the internet, and 76 per cent of these homes have broadband compared to just seven per cent in 1995. More than three-quarters of family homes have a games console.
  • Almost all parents with children aged 8 to 17 see the internet as beneficial for their children, mainly as providing learning or educational opportunities. Similarly, four-fifths of these parents see benefits in their child’s use of a mobile phone, particularly for safety and security.
  • Families say electronic media and communications activities take up around half of young people’s total discretionary time – a proportion that has not changed since 1995. Children themselves demonstrate a balanced attitude to the use of electronic media and communications. When given a preference, young people often prefer to do non-media activities and socialise with other people.

The Media and Communications in Australian Families 2007 report is available on ACMA’s website here.BackgrounderACMA commissioned the community research component of the report from Urbis, which conducted a large-scale representative study of 751 family households with children aged from 8 to 17 years to provide sound evidence on how young people are using their leisure time and what parents experience on a daily basis.The sampling for the parent’s survey was based on national representation by state/territory and city/regional location. The study included a telephone survey with parents and a three day time-use diary that was completed by over a thousand young people. The fieldwork took place between March and June 2007.The key research questions were about the media and communications devices families have, how young people spend their leisure time (providing comparisons with the Australian Broadcasting Authority’s 1995 study Families and Electronic Entertainment) and how parents view their children’s use of media and communications technologies.The academic component was undertaken by the University of New England’s Centre for Applied Research in Social Science.Key findings

  • Australian households with children 8 – 17 years are media-rich.
  • almost all households with children aged 8- 17 have a television (over 99 per cent): these households have an average of 2.8 televisions per home
  • about a third (32 per cent) have access to subscription TV
  • almost all (97 per cent) have a DVD player, with an average of 1.7 per home
  • nine-in-ten (91 per cent) have the internet, and 76 per cent have broadband compared to just 7 per cent with the internet in 1995.
  • family homes are more connected than households generally.
  • 77 per cent have a games console, representing an increase from 58 per cent in 1995. There is an average of one console per home
  • just under a half (48 per cent) have a hand-held gaming device, an increase from 39 per cent in 1995
  • almost nine-in-ten (89 per cent) have a VCR, showing a small decline from 93 per cent in 1995
  • almost one-quarter (23 per cent) have a DVD recorder
  • almost all have a computer (98 per cent) representing a substantial increase from 59 per cent in 1995. This year, there is an average of 1.8 computers per home
  • almost all households with children have a mobile phone (97 per cent compared to 22 per cent in 1995). In 2007, there are 2.9 mobile phones per home.
  • more than half (56 per cent) have a mobile phone with advanced features (e.g. with access to the internet, video)
  • three-quarters (76 per cent) have a portable MP3 or MP4 player

Importance of the internet to families with childrenHome internet access seems to be partly a function of means: 94 per cent of households with children on incomes of more than $35,000 per annum are online, compared with 75 per cent of those on less than $35,000. These findings are also consistent with recent work by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (Patterns of Internet Access in Australia), that found households with an income or $2,000 or more per week were three time more likely to have broadband compared with households on less than $600 per week.In the survey if parents said they had access to the internet, they were asked if they had broadband or dial-up. They were prompted by being told that broadband includes cable, ADSL, satellite, wireless etc; dialup uses a phone line.On average, children 8-17 years spend about one and quarter hours online every day. For teenagers 15-17 years, this is just under two and a half hours a day. The internet does not take up as much time for the younger children in ACMA’s study: 8-11 year olds spend 30 minutes a day online.Ninety-six per cent of parents with the internet at home say their children benefit from the internet, citing educational benefits in particular. Parents also say that the internet provides skill development in areas such as computer and research skills. More than a third of parents (37 per cent) mentioned communications benefits from the internet, such as keeping in touch with friends.Very few of today’s parents would have used the internet when they were children or teenagers. Nonetheless, the great majority of parents are comfortable with the internet. Almost all parents in homes with internet access use it themselves. Almost 90 per cent of these reported being comfortable using the internet.More than four-in-ten young people (42 per cent) say they have posted their own material online. Among 14-17 year olds, a majority of both girls (72 per cent) and boys (52 per cent) have their own profile on a social networking site.A comfortable media balanceElectronic media and communication activities overall take up around half of children and young people’s aggregate discretionary time.This proportion hasn’t changed since 1995. On average, every discretionary hour spent consuming media or communicating using electronic devices is matched by a similar amount of time spent doing physical activity, hanging out, playing or other non-media activities.While parents have some concerns, overall they appear reasonably comfortable with their children’s engagement with electronic media and communication activities.Media is particularly important as a solo pursuit. When asked what they most like to do by themselves, children indicated three media activities in their top four: watching free-to-air television, listening to recorded music, and gaming. But they also nominate activities such as reading and drawing as frequently as television viewing, as their favourite things to do when alone.When asked to rate their level of concern about a range of possible issues, parents said media and communication-related concerns do not stand out from other issues, such as their child’s safety and security, exposure to drugs and alcohol, educational opportunities and friends.In considering their child’s television viewing, gaming, internet use and mobile phone use, the vast majority of parents (80-90 per cent) indicate that each is fairly easy or very easy to manage. Over two-thirds (68 per cent) of parents say they are happy with their child’s current balance between media and non-media activities.While family homes are media-rich, children’s bedrooms are not. Australian children have less opportunity to watch television in their bedrooms than their counterparts in the US and UK. One in five Australian children has a television in their bedroom. (In the US, research suggests that seven out of 10 children aged 8-18 years have a television in their bedroom, and in the UK, studies have indicated three-quarters of children 8-15 years have a television in their bedroom.)One in five children has a computer in their bedroom, up from 8 per cent in 1995. Half of those bedroom computers have an internet connection.Managing media influences and activitiesThe report’s review of academic research highlights the importance of good communication, information and regulation in harnessing the benefits and moderating any negative influences of electronic media.The media’s capacity to influence beliefs and behaviour can be harnessed to benefit children, such as promoting physical activity, educational television and a platform for social activity.In realising these benefits, it is important to recognise that not all media and communications activities can be guaranteed to be harmless for children and young people. This is reflected in Australia’s regulatory scheme, especially the classification scheme that sets limits and provides information about particular sexual, violent and other content that may not be appropriate for children.Critical to understanding potentially negative media influences are the individual circumstances specific to children and families. Educational and socio-economic resources of the family and the broader community can be important protective factors, along with family communication styles, and the strength of family and peer-group norms.This news release is also available from the ACMA website at www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/pc=PC_310897. The report, “Families and Electronic Entertainment” is available from www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/pc=PC_310893

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