Children and screens: When digital entertainment becomes their main activity

By Marinette Dalbard, Client Servicing Director
Reasons for the increase and challenges for brands targeting this constantly evolving demographic

In recent years, the omnipresence of digital technologies in our daily lives has led to a considerable increase in the time that children spend on screens.

According to a recent study by BrandTrends Kid Consumer and Media Lives (2022), children aged 3 to 14 spend over 35 hours per week on digital entertainment, making it their main activity.

This consumption is also evolving. Indeed, children spend more time on screens, but less time watching live TV, and more time streaming. They are increasingly involved in managing and creating their own content.

The fact that children are spending more and more time on screens is linked to multiple factors, including:

  • The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic: many children have been forced to stay at home for school and leisure.
  • Early use of screens: The 2017 BrandTrends Kid Consumer study had already found that the vast majority of American 6-year-olds owned a mobile phone. Since then, the average age of screen use has continued to decrease, to the point where even infants are now screen users, whether it is their parents’ phone, a tablet, or a television remote control.
  • Mobile screens are becoming more widespread: according to the 2022 BrandTrends Kid Consumer and Media Lives study, 44% of 3-14-year-olds are equipped with tablets and 41% with smartphones (63% among 10-14-year-olds).
BrandTrends Kid & Screens research

The time that children spend on screens varies considerably depending on many factors, including the child’s age, family context, cultural habits, and technology availability. Thus, 15-18-year-olds spend nearly twice as much time on screens as 7-9-year-olds each day.

The mode of screen use also plays a crucial role in the increase in time devoted to it. Activities abound and enhance the attractiveness of media:

  1. Video games: entertainment for children of all ages, available on multiple platforms.
  2. Social networks: Social networks are becoming more and more popular with children, especially adolescents, offering formats developed specifically for them. They are primarily used for entertainment (BrandTrends Kid Consumer and Media Lives 2022 study), even before connecting with others.
  3. Movies and TV series: whether streaming or downloading, they still represent a significant share of usage.
  4. Applications: they are plentiful, and advertising formats are developed to maximize their use.
  5. Reading: Children can also use screens to read e-books or comics.
  6. Schoolwork: while this mainly concerns adolescents from middle school, the obligation to connect to Digital Learning Environment is an additional reason to use screens.

Faced with this considerable increase in the time that children spend on screens, and in order to succeed in reaching children and adolescents, brands must implement adapted marketing strategies. Here are five avenues to explore:

  • Create adapted content: For example, younger children may be attracted to educational games or interactive stories, while teenagers may prefer videos from popular YouTubers. It is also important to consider the different modes of screen use, such as tablets or smartphones, and to offer varied content to meet their different needs.
  • Use social media even more: For example, brands can create short and playful videos for TikTok or longer content for YouTube. Influencers can also be used to reach this target audience and amplify the reach of messages.
  • Develop even more attractive advertisements: Brands can use popular characters among children, bright colors, special effects, but also tell a (very short) story and use humor as a language. All these elements will act as attention grabbers for children.
  • Use augmented reality: Brands can offer games or applications using this technology to stand out from the competition and provide a unique experience to users. For example, a coloring app can allow children to see their drawing come to life in augmented reality.
  • Leverage the metaverse: Although still in its early stages and confidential, the metaverse is a new frontier for the user experience, in which we believe a lot. Brands can create virtual worlds and offer interactive experiences for children in this growing environment. For example, a toy brand can create a virtual universe in which children can interact with the characters from their product line.

While the increase in screen time provides an opportunity for brands to connect with their target audience, the multitude of uses makes it tedious to stand out. New formats, influencers, augmented reality, metaverse… are all challenges to be overcome!

For more updates, follow BrandTrends on LinkedIn.

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