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Mobile Internet Use in the Everyday Life of Children and Young People

Mobile Internet Use in the Everyday Life of Children and Young People

Tablet computers and smartphones enable young children to use digital media and different online applications without a mouse or a keyboard. There are only a few findings available on the status of mobile Internet usage in children’s everyday lives and on the attitude of parents and pedagogues regarding the mobile online access and their children’s usage. More specifically, how they deal with the topic in everyday family life or in school and how far they (are able to to) keep up with their children’s Internet use when this increasingly exceeds their visual range or, in the case of school, takes up more and more space. These and other questions are focused on in the framework of a qualitative study which encompasses children aged 2 to 16 years, as well as parents and teachers, about the role of mobile media within families.

The findings show that pre-school and primary-school children use tablet computers and smartphones as family devices to look at pictures, to watch videos or to play games if their parents allowed it. Children aged 7 to 14 usually have their own smartphone to communicate via instant messaging services such as WhatsApp or social networks like Facebook. For parents, the motivation to get their children a mobile phone is the transition from primary school to secondary school. However, mobile devices have not found their way into schools yet. Schools usually do not allow their students to use mobile phones on school grounds and do not systematically include the devices in class, although pedagogues who have been interviewed are in favour of this idea. 

The project was funded by the by the Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend (BMFSFJ) [the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth].

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Project Description

With the increasing spread of online-capable tablets and smartphones, as well as the increase in favourable flat rates, the possibilities for accessing the Internet have widened as well as the possibilities for going online regardless of location. Comparing the data of the JIM-study shows that children and young people use mobile internet increasingly: whereas in 2010 “only” 13 per cent of twelve to 19-year olds accessed the Internet through a cell phone, the proportion was already 73 per cent in 2013 and reached about 90 percent in 2015 (MPFS 2012, p. 32, MPFS 2013, p. 30, referring to Internet use in the last 14 days).

At the same time, we note that there are only a few findings available on the status of mobile Internet usage in children’s everyday life and on the attitude of parents and teachers regarding the mobile online access and usage of their children; how they deal with the topic in everyday family life or in school and how far they (are able to to) keep up with their children’s Internet use, when this increasingly gets outside their visual range or – in the case of school – takes up more and more space.

We studied these and other questions in the framework of a qualitative study, which encompasses children, aged two to 16 years, as well as parents and teachers. The methodological design is closely related to the European project, „Net children go mobile“ (Link project), which has been receiving funding since the end of 2012 in the context of the “Safer Internet” programme. This approach enabled us to gather comparable qualitative data on the mobile Internet usage among German children and consider it against the background of the data from the countries participating in the project. At the same time, the German sample was extended to younger children as they start to use mobile devices at an increasingly younger age.

The study was based on data from

  • Twelve interviews, each with parents and their children aged two to six (from a total of twelve families), including participative observations of the children during media use;
  • Focus groups and guided interviews alone or in pairs with a total of 46 children and young people aged seven to fourteen;
  • Nine guided interviews (single participants or in small groups) with a total of 15 parents of interviewed children aged seven to fourteen;
  • Six guided interviews (alone or in pairs) with a total of seven pedagogues – particularly teachers – of various institutions.
In the interviews with the children, we focused on several questions of internet use, such as
  • When and why did they get a web-enabled mobile phone/smartphone or a tablet PC?
  • What differences did they see between mobile and stationary internet usage?
  • Which positive and negative experiences have children already encountered?
  • How would they act or how have they acted in critical situations?
  • To what extent do their parents monitor internet usage?

In the case of (the) younger children, we interviewed the parents and observed the children while they were using tablets and/or smartphones.
The interviews with the parents focused on – among other things – the motivations and reasons to buy children a web-enabled mobile phone/smartphone or a tablet PC. The interview also focused on the parents’ attitude towards the use of mobile internet in general, but also on their attitude towards children – especially their own children - using mobile internet. The parents were further interviewed about the assessment of potentials and risks of internet usage, as well as the relevance of this topic in the context of media education. Teachers and educational staff were also interviewed concerning mobile internet use (in general and referring to children) and the perception of opportunities and risks of this use.

The survey was conducted between April and July of 2014. The families with pre-school children were interviewed at home. The interviews with parents and the observation of their children lasted around 20 and 30 minutes. The interviews with children aged seven to 14 years took around 60 minutes. The participants for this study were recruited in private schools, requests in online forums, in social media, via newsletters, and through snowball sampling. Furthermore, children and young people with access to web-enabled mobile terminals, such as smartphones, tablets and iPods, or with a certain degree of internet affinity, were selected for this study. The findings are documented in the series “Working Papers of the Hans-Bredow-Institut” (Arbeitspapiere des Hans-Bredow-Instituts), no. 35 (pdf for download).

Project Information


Duration: 2013-2014

Research programme:
RP3 - Knowledge for the Media Society

Involved persons

Dr. Claudia Lampert

Cooperation Partner

Contact person

Dr. Claudia Lampert
Senior Researcher Media Socialisation & Health Communication

Dr. Claudia Lampert

Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI)
Rothenbaumchaussee 36
20148 Hamburg

Tel. +49 (0)40 45 02 17 - 92
Fax +49 (0)40 45 02 17 - 77

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