Children say using internet better than playing with friends, study finds

Growing Up in Ireland study finds most children enjoy online games more than playing with friends

The research found using the internet was most commonly reported as the favourite activity of nine-year-olds. Photograph: iStock

The research found using the internet was most commonly reported as the favourite activity of nine-year-olds. Photograph: iStock

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More than half of nine-year-olds have said their parents allowed them to use the internet without checking on what they were doing or watching, according to new research from the Growing Up in Ireland study.

Almost all of the more than 8,000 children interviewed for the major study had access to the internet, with tablets or iPads more popular than smartphones or games consoles.

The research found using the internet was most commonly reported as the favourite activity of nine-year-olds, tied with playing football and ahead of playing with friends or reading.

Some 27 per cent of children surveyed said their favourite activity was using the internet, while 23 per cent said they most enjoyed playing with friends.

Growing Up in Ireland is a long-term study that has tracked several cohorts of children at various stages of childhood. The latest findings, published by the Economic & Social Research Institute (ESRI) on Wednesday, were drawn from interviews with nine-year-olds in 2017 and 2018.

More than four-fifths of the group reported playing games on the internet – the most popular online activity, followed by watching YouTube videos.

Some 53 per cent of nine-year-olds said they were allowed to use the internet without supervision, the study found.

Overweight

Nearly a quarter of the children involved in the study were overweight and 5 per cent of the cohort were obese.

Girls were more likely than boys to be overweight, as were children from lower-income families. Nearly a third of children from the lowest-income families were overweight, compared with 15 per cent of children from families with the highest levels of income.

As the interviews with children and their parents took place in 2017 and 2018, the results shed no light on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on this cohort of young people.

The researchers said the findings pointed to a significant improvement in most families’ financial situations, compared with the years following the financial crash.

Some 13 per cent of parents reported being under financial strain and having difficulties making ends meet when interviewed. The study said this was a “substantial improvement” compared with 2013, where more than a quarter of the same parents reported being under financial strain.

However, the study noted financial stress was still high among single-parent families. Nearly a third of lone parents reported financial difficulties, compared with 10 per cent of two-parent families.

Children in two-parent families, households with higher incomes, or where parents were better educated, were likely to be healthier than nine-year-olds in lower-income homes.

Reading scores

The study found most children liked both school and their teacher, while negative attitudes were rare. Only 5 per cent of children said they never liked school, and 3 per cent said they never liked their teacher.

Some 28 per cent of nine-year-olds said they never liked learning Irish, while 11 per cent said the same for maths. Reading was the most popular learning activity.

The study pointed to a “significant” gap in reading test scores based on children’s socio-economic backgrounds. Children from the highest-income households had on average 10 per cent higher scores than children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The research noted this “socio-economic gap” in reading test scores had widened since the cohort of children had started primary school.

The Growing Up in Ireland study is funded by the Department of Children, with a contribution from Atlantic Philanthropies. The research is undertaken by the ESRI and academics from Trinity College Dublin.