Media Usages of 5–8 Year-olds: Children Take Control of Their Autonomy

Written by Gaëlle SaulesFlorence Roche, and Judith Beauregard.

Whereas parents choose the entertainment for their 3–5 year-olds, between the ages of 5 and 8, children become increasingly autonomous with respect to their media usages and start to assert their preferences in terms of activities and contents.

What is the symbol of this autonomy? According to a Common Sense Media study, a majority of 5–8 year-olds in the United States (59%) possess their own tablet. Moreover, they prefer their tablet to gaming consoles, television or even mobile.

Parents set the screen time rules

Parents no longer play a companion role, but they nevertheless retain control over their children’s activities. Indeed, parents set the rules for downloading and using apps for example. According to a study led by Ofcom in the United Kingdom, 73% of parents of children aged 5 to 7 state that they decide the sites and apps that their children can consult, whereas 55% of them exercise control over the time their children spend online.

The older children get, the more time they spend on video and mobile games

According to Statistics Canada data, Canadian children aged 5 to 11 spend an average of 2 hours and 18 minutes in front of screens every day versus 2 hours for 3–5 year-olds.

The different usages between both age groups are also apparent in terms of their online activities. According to Common Sense Media’s study, viewing videos (regardless of the device used) remains the preferred activity (which accounts for 65% of time spent online by 5–8 year-olds in the US), whereas video and mobile gaming takes up more time as the child grows up. Americans aged 5 to 8 years spend 42 minutes per day on games, i.e., twice as much as 3–5 year-olds (21 minutes per day).

YouTube to watch cartoon and humoristic videos

Children aged 5 to 8 learn on their own to navigate online and select the videos they watch. YouTube is one of this age group’s preferred platforms, namely because of its interface that enables them to discover new recommended content without the effort of searching.

According to Ofcom’s study in the United Kingdom, 71% of all 5–7 year-olds use YouTube. What are the types of content that are viewed the most? According to their parents, 69% of them watch cartoons and animated drawings; humoristic videos and challenges come next (at 53%); and unboxing (i.e., unwrapping toys) occupies the third position (20%). However, parents are reluctant with respect to this type of content and possibly minimize their children’s actual consumption of this type of video.

Virtual worlds are popular social games among 5–8 year-olds

Between the ages of 5 and 8, children develop their social ties and that is also reflected in media usages. Among the types of games that are popular with this age group are virtual worlds such as Minecraft (see the case study below), Roblox, Star Stable and Clash of Clans.

All of these multiplayer networking games have in common a highly developed social aspect by which the community plays a major role in terms of cooperation and confrontation alike. According to Common Sense Media, 22% of all 5–8 year-olds play this type of game.

A generation of video makers

Online activities are however not limited to games and viewing videos. Once again according to Ofcom’s study, a quarter of all 5–7 year-olds in the UK have already created videos. This phenomenon is mainly embodied by the Minecraft and Roblox games in which many young gamers/video makers film and comment their sessions.

Joint parent-child usage

In addition to these autonomous usages by children, the family’s media habits also come into play. It’s a defining trait of the new generation of parents, sometimes called “peerents” (peer parents), who enjoy entertainment as a family.

Case study: the reasons explaining Minecraft’s success with children

With 55 million players connected each month and over 122 million copies sold since its release, Minecraft has become the second most widely sold game in history (after Tetris with 170 million copies sold).

The game created in 2011 by Swedish studio Mojang and later acquired by Microsoft in 2014 for $2,5 billion has become a reference for its young public to the point that the New York Timesreferred to this public as forming the “Minecraft generation.”

What attracts this young public? A sandbox game that is replayable an infinite number of times!

On the basis of principle, Minecraft is comparable to a box of LEGO pieces, in that the pieces generate an infinite number of building possibilities and that the playing field can be shared with a worldwide network. The creative possibilities become endless.

No predetermined scenario, no quest to complete… Minecraft is an open-world sandbox game. It provides players with a great freedom of choice in terms of gaming modes (creative, adventure, survival) and possibilities to build their own universes and share them with other players. It also takes customization to its extreme.

A multiplayer game in which the community is front and centre

The game is thereby constantly improved by the addition of “mods,” i.e., extensions that are developed by the community itself and that add new features, new worlds to explore or new game and display modes.

Minecraft’s success is attributable to the strength of its community of players. The community is very active on forums and very present on YouTube, whether in terms of creating tutorials or telling stories inspired by adventure mode sessions. The New York Times estimates that more than 70 million YouTube videos deal with Minecraft.

In addition to delighting children and young teens, the game is also popular among older and more experienced players who help new players familiarize themselves with the game. Indeed, one of the game’s particularities is that it does not come with a tutorial or learning guide. Players themselves must consult the community if they have questions about the game.

Children can play it on all supports

One of Microsoft’s main projects after having acquired Minecraft was to make the game compatible with a maximum number of supports other than the firm’s proprietary supports. Today, Minecraft is compatible with all of the main gaming consoles as well as PCs, tablets and mobile devices. There is even a virtual reality version of the game that is adapted to headsets such as the Oculus Rift.

An educational tool that develops a multitude of skills

Today, Minecraft is often touted as an excellent educational tool for children that develops their creativity, fosters team collaboration and calls upon programming, mathematical and architectural notions. To tap into the phenomenon, Microsoft launched an educational version of the game in 2016, Minecraft Education Edition, specially designed for classrooms.

Minecraft and its competitor Roblox

Despite the surge in popularity of its competitor Roblox, very closely based on the same principle, i.e., a user-generated gaming platform, which claims to have 50 million active users, let’s bet that Minecraft and its community still have happy days ahead of them.

Gaëlle Saules
Gaëlle Saules is a multi-platform digital specialist, with strong experience in channel development and digital content distribution acquired while working at France Télévision Distribution. She now works for Tobo where she's developping usage and discoverability strategies. She has worked on projects such as Jenny (Avenida, Unis) and with clients such as Radio-Canada or Bayard.
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