Almost a quarter of kids aged 5-7 have smartphones, Ofcom reveals

Parents feel there are positives to their children being online but do have concerns about some aspects of it, Ofcom says (PA Archive)
Parents feel there are positives to their children being online but do have concerns about some aspects of it, Ofcom says (PA Archive)

Smartphone use has hit an all-time high among children, with nearly a quarter of UK five to seven year-olds now owning a smartphone, according to Ofcom.

The annual study of children’s relationships with the media and online worlds also showed that social media use rose in this age group last year. Nearly two in five use messaging service WhatsApp despite its minimum age of 13.

It said the number of children aged between five and seven who go online to send messages or make voice and video calls had risen from 59 per cent to 65 per cent, while half now watch live-streamed content, up from 39 per cent.

In addition, the communications regulator found that while 42 per cent of parents said they used social media with their child, 32 per cent said their child used social media independently.

The number of parents of younger children who said they were more likely to allow their child to have a social media profile before they reached the minimum age required has also risen, Ofcom said, from 25 per cent to 30 per cent.

Ofcom’s report said: “While parental concerns in some areas have increased considerably, their enforcement of rules appears to be diminishing, in part perhaps because of resignation about their ability to intervene in their children’s online lives.”

It added that, although parents feel there are positives to their children being online, concerns about some aspects of it remain.

“We’ve asked for many years about whether parents feel that the benefits of their child going online outweigh the risks,” the report said.

“And when we altered the question in 2022, separating out gaming, social media, and being online more generally, we saw that parents regarded their child’s gaming and use of social media as more risky than beneficial, although 57 per cent of parents of five to 15s still thought that being online in general was a good thing for their child.”

Some people have campaigned for age limits to be introduced for smartphone use and existing ones raised for social media.

However, most phones owned by children are likely to have been provided by parents – under-18s cannot sign contracts and most big operators say they do not sell pay-as-you-go phones to under-16s.

The regulator is preparing to launch a consultation on its draft children’s safety code of practice for tech companies, which outlines how platforms are expected to protect younger users of their services under the Online Safety Act.

The Secretary of State for Science, Technology and Innovation Michelle Donelan said: “Children as young as five should not be accessing social media and these stark findings show why our Online Safety Act is essential.

“Most platforms say they do not allow under-13s onto their sites and the Act will ensure companies enforce these limits or they could face massive fines. If they fail to comply with Ofcom decisions and keep children safe their bosses could face prison.”

“Protecting children online is our number one priority and we will not hesitate to build on the Act to keep them safe.”