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Ofcom: Number of kids owning mobiles drops for first time as tablets replace smartphones

The number of children owning a mobile phone has dropped for the first time ever, according to figures released by regulator Ofcom, with tablet computers becoming the new must-have device.

The use of phones among children aged five to 15 has grown every year since the survey began in 2005, but 2013 saw phone ownership among this age group fall to just 43 per cent, compared to 49 per cent last year.

The shifting numbers are due to two factors. Firstly, the number of children owning basic (non-smart) phones has nearly halved from 28 per cent to 15 per cent over the past year. Secondly, the ownership of tablets now equals ownership of smartphones. While the number of kids who own smartphones has remained relatively constant at 18 per cent, the number owning tablets has risen to the same percentage, representing a particularly steep fourfold increase amongst eight to 15-year-olds.

The report also showed a division in how younger and older children access the Internet. It showed that younger users are making the fastest transition to tablets.

"While the usability of tablets appears to meet younger children's entertainment needs, particularly for watching audio-visual content and playing games, older children mainly use smartphones to communicate."

Children are also more likely to watch programmes and play video games on a device, rather than on a TV or games console. The proportion of kids with TVs in their bedrooms has fallen to 52 per cent from 59 per cent last year. That's not to say the popularity of television has dropped. Perhaps surprisingly, TV programmes are still the thing most children aged five to 15 would miss most of all their activities.

Another of the survey's surprising findings was that fewer children had online social media profiles this year when compared to last year. This is the first time such a drop has been recorded, and could have contributed to the recently-reported stalling of social media adoption in the UK.

Around 47 per cent of parents also believe that their child knows more about the Internet and computers than they do, a figure that might explain recent reports of parents paying their kids pocket money to organise the files on their computers.

Image: Flickr (byronpeebles)