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QUSTODIO ANNUAL DATA REPORT 2020

Communication apps

This page is chapter 5  in a five-chapter series of app categories included in the Qustodio Annual Data Report on children’s digital habits during the year 2020.

RESEARCH BY APP CATEGORY

Communication

What we found

While WhatsApp was the communication app leader, 2020 was Zoom’s year. The company responded quickly to the pandemic and evolved its app from a focus on corporate video conferencing to becoming an app for everyone and everything from talking to grandma to having virtual dinner parties. Zoom became a household name overnight, and its success is reflected in our research, going from no rank in 2019 to the top of the popularity chart in the US and second globally.

Discord, originally a community chat app for gamers, also expanded its reach and went mainstream, taking off during the pandemic and growing over 90% in popularity for the year. In fact, all six of the top communication apps showed at least some growth in popularity. The pandemic lockdowns and other restrictions also boosted how long kids spent on communication apps. Time spent on apps in the communication category grew to an average of 91 mins/day, a 49% increase over 2019.

As we saw in other app categories, kids’ use of communication apps soared in the spring with the arrival of strict pandemic restrictions and kids began using those apps throughout the entire day, instead of primarily after school like they did pre-Covid. Unique to this category, a second surge in use occurred in October globally, led by the US where the third, and most severe wave of Covid-19 was starting.

What were the most popular communcation apps among kids?

Not ranked in 2019, Zoom not only became one of the most popular communication apps globally and in every region we analyzed in 2020, it was number one in the US. In the other regions, WhatsApp was the most popular. While never highly popular in the US, WhatsApp ranked in the top six in that region for the first time. Discord and Skype also increased in popularity globally and in every region. On a global level, Discord’s popularity increased 92% and Skype’s popularity increased 60%.

How much time did kids spend on communication apps?

Zoom was not just among the communication apps kids used most, it was also among those they used the longest, on average 50 mins/day, and 56% more than the most popular app, WhatsApp. WhatsApp and Discord tied for the second with kids using each of those apps an average of 32 mins/day. Globally, kids used the top six communication apps longer in 2020 than in 2019, making it the only category where every popular app grew on average in terms of time connected.

Kids in every region spent the most time connected in May at the height of the pandemic lockdowns in the spring, with the peak extending to June in the UK. Unique to the communication app category, kids’ use of these apps rose again in October, most sharply in the US.

Kids and social media

What time of day did kids use communication apps?

Before Covid, kids used communication apps mostly after school, with most kids connecting between 4pm and 8pm. The spring Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions dramatically shifted the peak from the afternoon to the morning with the majority of kids using communication apps at 11 am, continuing until 9pm. By the end of the year, fewer kids were using communication apps but they were still using them all day long, with peaks at 11am and at 7pm.

What time of day did kids use communication apps?

Before Covid, kids used communication apps mostly after school, with most kids connecting between 4pm and 8pm. The spring Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions dramatically shifted the peak from the afternoon to the morning with the majority of kids using communication apps at 11 am, continuing until 9pm. By the end of the year, fewer kids were using communication apps but they were still using them all day long, with peaks at 11am and at 7pm.

Which communication apps did parents block most?

Globally and in the US, parents blocked Discord, the community chat app that has made recent strides to be safer for kids,but has no parental controls, more than any other communication app. It bumped 2019’s most blocked communication app, WhatsApp, under scrutiny for opening up further data sharing with parent company Facebook, into second place. Just as Zoom grew in popularity among kids, it also appeared on parents’ radar and on the blocked list for the first time. Skype, while still among the six most blocked apps, dropped from second to fifth.
Kids and social media

What we expect

In 2021, we expect kids’ use of communication apps to reduce but not return to pre-Covid levels. While kids will have less opportunity to use communication apps when going back to school in person, and have more opportunities to socialize in person, apps like Zoom will still be mainstream and used in non-business contexts. Many families will still not be able to travel to see family members abroad, keeping connecting via communication apps essential, and ingraining that form of communication as a habit.

We also expect for kids to continue to connect throughout the day as communication apps continue to be used for any distance or hybrid learning, and because messaging or “Whatsapping” has become integrated into children’s lives, no matter where they are during the day

What we recommend

Our ability to communicate abstract ideas with language and writing is one of the things that makes humans so unique, and so successful as a species. During the pandemic lockdowns, communication apps, and social media apps, helped us stay connected, and ‘stay human’. While screen time needs to be controlled, we do not recommend blocking communication apps entirely, unless there is an issue with a bully or online predator. We do, however, recommend mobile detoxes and downtimes.

In regards to mobile detoxes, they are largely symbolic, which is fine as they increase needed awareness around excess screen time. But to make disconnecting a habit, it needs to become part of a regular routine. To achieve this, downtimes, or down days like ‘Screenless Sundays’ work better. The most important downtimes are during mealtimes and 1 hour before bed. Disconnecting at meal times encourages real conversations between family members and cuts back on distrac- tions. Disconnecting an hour before bedtime, protects kids from stimulating blue light on screens. We also recommend keeping digital devices out of the bedroom entirely to avoid
kids having the temptation, and the ‘FOMO’, to check if there is a response to their latest message or post.

Joan Amorós, psychologist and expert in screen time, is dedicating his life to helping people disconnect from their phones and get outdoors. He thinks this is even more important for kids and suggests that “parents should ensure that for every hour their kids spend online they get one hour outdoors. It’s my mantra, and it has only become more challenging during the pandemic. So I tell parents to focus on what they can do. Keep track of your child’s screen time with native or external parental controls and balance it with outdoor time on the weekend if you can’t fit it in during the week. If you can’t turn off your phone, turn off alerts, on your child’s chat apps, as well as your own. The first step in teaching your kids good habits, is setting a good example yourself.”

Marc Masip, psychologist and expert in addiction, is passionate about keeping mobile devices out of schools and tells parents, “As you kids go back to school, please don’t send them with a smartphone. If you need a way to stay in touch with them via a call or SMS on a ‘dumb phone’. Kids are already on their devices all day long. School, even in-person school, is now increasingly online too. Removing the temptation to connect to the internet during school sounds harsh to some parents, but it is really a gift. Kids (and teachers) need a break. And, studies on schools that prohibit mobile phones in school consistently show: higher rates of concen- tration, lower rates of cyberbullying, and more chances for real social interaction and physical activity. To give your child these benefits, delay giving them a smartphone as long as possible.”

Parents should ensure that for every hour their kids spend online they get one hour outdoors.”

Joan Amorós

Founder of Desconnexions and Mobile Free Day