The CHILDWISE Monitor Report celebrated its 20th birthday recently, and looking back made me think about those early days, when asking children about technology was a more simple task, because they had relatively little access to it, and what they did use, came in discrete, easily defined categories - back then phones were just used for calling people, and watches just told the time!
Take the ubiquitous mobile phone. When I started working on the report in 1998, we were asking children if they had their own telephone extension in their bedroom (remember the landline?), and we asked if anyone in their family had a mobile phone, followed by an explanation of what a mobile phone actually was! Only a few years previous to this, we were referring to ‘cellular mobile phones’, before the shortened term caught on. In fact, back then only seven in ten children thought that mobile phones would catch on at all. It wasn’t until pay as you go became more popular at the turn of the Millennium, that children’s ownership took hold. Back then we measured how children used their phones against a list of five different activities, all of which seemed futuristic at the time, but are now just part of a long list of things every child expects their mobile to do.
Children’s TV, and TV channels in general, have also increased exponentially since the early days of the Monitor. For Monitor’s first outing back in 1994, the TV channels we asked if children had watched fitted into one question with 24 codes (as much as our software would allow per question back then), and only three of these were dedicated children’s channels – the Children’s Channel, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network are still going strong (The Children’s Channel closed in 1998), but they are now part of a list of almost 20 children’s channels that we ask about, along with another 100 channels that have some appeal to boys and girls of different ages.
The biggest challenge we have faced is asking about children’s access to and use of the internet. To begin with, we even felt it necessary to ask if their school had email / internet access, somewhat a prerequisite today. The Monitor survey itself has always been asked of children in schools, as that is where we feel we get the best out of them, but it has only been administered online in schools since 2008. Up until that point, computer and internet technology in schools was varied across the country, and wouldn’t have supported a full roll out. Terminology has been another issue – going ‘online’ was once a long and protracted affair involving noisy modems, and children were limited in their use because of expense. But broadband and wifi mean kids are now always online, effortlessly, everywhere, so we have to create new ways to question them on what they do ‘online’.
Children do not carry the same baggage that we do as adults, and they are therefore much more suited to adopting any new technology that comes their way, adapting it to suit their needs, and making it a part of their world. Through our research with children, we are constantly learning about this process, and using this knowledge to help us better communicate with these ‘digital natives’.
To mark the occasion of Monitor’s 20th birthday, we produced our Connected Kids report, using 20 years’ worth of data explore how technology has changed the lives of children so much in such a relatively short time frame. See more details of the report here.