UK Study Suggests 6-Year-Olds More Tech-Savvy Than Adults

A new study from UK's Ofcom suggests that 6-year-old children have a greater understanding of technology than the average 45-year-old adult.

The study tested 2,000 adults and 800 children in an attempt to discover how technologically savvy each group is. The findings were published in the annual Communications Market Report.

"These younger people are shaping communications," said Jane Rumble, Ofcom's media research head. "As a result of growing up in the digital age, they are developing fundamentally different communication habits from older generations, even compared to what we call the early adopters, the 16-to-24 age group."

A "digital quotient" (DQ) was created by OfCom for the study. The DQ measures how confident a person manipulates technological gadgets such as smartphones, rather than merely intellectual knowledge.

The 6 and 7-year-olds were found to have an average DQ of 98, higher than the adults who had an average DQ of 96. The study found the highest DQ to be between ages 14 and 15, when it reached 113, then steadily dropping off from there.

With such a large gap between how technology is used by younger children compared with adults, it is this younger generation that forecasters use to predict future technological trends, rather than current young adults, reports Juliette Garside for The Guardian.

The largest difference is seen in time spent on the phone. While adults spend about 20% of their time talking, children aged 12-15 only spend about 3% of their time on the phone, preferring to send messages electronically. According to OfCom, "The millennium generation is losing its voice."

Another large change is seen in the time watching live television. While television accounts for 70% of adult viewing habits, younger children only spend about half of their time in front of the TV, preferring to view clips on YouTube or Facebook. The rest of their viewing habits are done through DVD, Netflix, or watching recorded programs on a device such as TiVo.

"The jury is still out on whether it's a one off blip or the start of a new trend," said James Thickett, research director at Ofcom. "But younger people are moving away from live television and moving to streaming and catch up services."

In all, OfCom discovered that UK citizens spend more time using technology, about 8 hours and 41 minutes each day, than they do sleeping, which accounts for 8 hours and 21 minutes of an average day. Almost 4 hours of that time is spent watching TV.

The research also showed that younger people were more likely to be multi-tasking while on their devices, as they spend 14 hours and 17 minutes each day using some form of technology, all in only 9 hours, according to Joe Miller for the BBC.

Dr Aric Sigman, a psychologist who focuses on childhood disease, says the Ofcom statistics are "another measure showing that children are spending more of their recreational time looking at screens, particularly in bedrooms by themselves".

This prolonged screen time may lead to higher instances of obesity and diabetes.

A shorter version of the questionnaire is now available to the public, who will receive a DQ score and advice on how to improve the score as well as information on Internet safety.

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