QUSTODIO’S ANNUAL REPORT ON CHILDREN’S DIGITAL HABITS IN 2020
All the Time
Apps and kids: A year trapped behind screens
A full year of 2020 trends and insights on children’s screen time habits globally and across three major markets and five popular app categories
Our predictions on kids’ screen time use and app popularity in 2021
Expert advice for parents on creating online safety and screen time balance during the rest of the pandemic and beyond
ABOUT THIS REPORT
One year ago we released our first annual report on children’s digital habits based on app activity during most of 2019. We also gave an early preview of 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic hit and made an immediate impact on screen time. In last year’s research, we analyzed four app categories – online video, social media, gaming and education – across three major markets: the US, the UK and Spain. This year, we take our research a step further by analyzing the entire 2020 year, including a global view, and adding a fifth app category, communication apps. In every chapter, we share graphs on the most popular apps based on the percentage of kids using them, the average time spent per popular app, the average time spent per app category as a whole, the times of day kids used apps in that category, and the apps parents blocked most.
The goal of this year’s report is to give everyone interested in children’s safety and wellbeing a broader view of what kid’s screen time habits were like in 2020, how they evolved, and what to look out for in 2021. We also aim to help parents make better online safety and screen time decisions for their families. That’s why, we close each chapter with screen time advice from expert doctors, psychologists, gaming, digital wellbeing and technology experts from around the world.
As always, Qustodio aims to be a global, independent and trustworthy voice on everything related to digital wellbeing – from online safety to screen time balance. We hope the insights and information in this report, and the tips from experts in technology and health, prove useful to other researchers, educators, health and technology professionals, and above all, families.
Founded in 2012, by cyber-security experts Eduardo Cruz, Josep Gaspar and Josh Gabel, Qustodio is an independent, digital wellbeing company. We focus on providing families with industry leading parental control tools and information to protect children from online threats and to create healthy screen time habits. We love technology and want people to use it with confidence and peace of mind, not in fear of their health, safety or privacy. That’s why we make it our mission to help families live smarter in an increasingly digital world.
SCREEN TIME ALL THE TIME
Before 2020, Qustodio was already sounding the alarm about increasing levels of screen time among kids, and encouraging parents to play a larger role in helping their children cut back on device time and create healthy digital habits. We expected screen time had not reached its max and would continue to inch forward. But, what we didn’t expect was the massive 100% surge in online activity across every app category in the spring of 2020.
Those extreme levels of screen time activity were caused by and propelled by the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, which forced children and their entire lives indoors. Everything from education to play, socialization, and even exercise were forced online. And, as many parents desperately juggled work and childcare, the internet became the babysitter too. Our kids were literally trapped behind screens.
While we are lucky that coronavirus itself didn’t harm the majority of children as severely as adults, the secondary effects of the resulting pandemic lockdowns, and its digitizing of their lives, could be just as harmful, and last longer. It may be decades before we know their full effect, especially on education.
But, the latest research already shows that greater use of digital devices if internet use is unsupervised magnifies kids’ risk of sexual exploitation and cyberbullying. Studies on excessive screen time from before Covid, already pointed to mental health issues and lower psychological wellbeing including anxiety and depression, as well as to physical health issues including eye fatigue and obesity.
The good news is that as 2020 went on, and as some kids were able to go back to school as restrictions lightened, our research showed that screen time levels did start to return to ‘normal’ pre-Covid levels. But screen time remained up 36% on average for the entire year compared to 2019. And the times of day kids used apps continued to be strong throughout the day, instead of just after school until around 8pm or bedtime. The familiar, pre-Covid pattern from previous years had largely vanished. Suddenly, it was screen time all the time, with steady use from 10am to nearly 10pm across most app categories.
We don’t expect the after-school peak, or many of the other changes to kids’ screen time habits to fully recover in 2021.
In fact, they may never be the same. But when it comes to technology, we know that things can change fast. For example, two of the six most popular games of 2020, Among Us and What Would You Do Rather had no rank in 2019.
Fortunately, advice on how to help kids stay safe online and balance their screen time has stayed the same. With the insights and guidance in the pages of the report ahead, you’ll be better able to understand what happened in 2020, and be ready for what we expect will still be a very digital 2021.
SCREEN TIME ALL THE TIME
The information in this report is based on anonymous insights provided by 100k families with children aged 4-15 years old, globally, in the US, the UK and Spain. The research covers online habits from January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020 and February 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019, across five popular app categories: Online Video, Social Media, Gaming, Education, and Communication.
The lines between app categories continue to blur, but for simplicity we have chosen just one category per app. For example, though TikTok provides online videos, we have classified it as Social Media. And though Twitch has social elements, we include it in our analysis of Online Video. For education apps, in terms of popularity, we divided the category into two sub-categories: classroom management apps, such as Google Classroom and Show My Homework, and learning apps, such as Duolingo and Photomath.
What’s not included in the research? We have excluded gambling apps such as Bet365 and ‘game launchers’ such as Epic Games Launcher and Steam from video games. Finally, for communication apps, we did not include email platforms like Gmail or native phone apps like Phone.
Insight on kids’ screen time habits
SCREEN TIME ALL THE TIME
Research by app category
Just as online video subscriptions surged, so did the amount of time kids spent using them, up 25% on average for the year and peaking in the spring with the lockdowns. As restrictions relaxed later in the year, time on videos did too. But kids were still streaming videos via their apps throughout the day, not just in the peak after school hours like they did pre-Covid.
Covid-19 restrictions led to a surge in the use of social media apps in the spring and erased the typical after-school peak for their use. By the end of the year, the pre-covid pattern started to return, but still with close to half of kids connecting to social media throughout the entire day. For the entire year, average time on social media apps was 76% higher than in 2019, the highest increase for any app category.
Roblox remained the most popular video game app with 35% of kids playing it globally, 39% in the US and 40% in the UK, while Brawl Stars held on to the top spot with 35% in Spain. New to the popularity chart in 2020 were Among Us – capturing fourth place globally and as high as second place in Spain – and What Would You Choose Rather – ranking third globally and reaching second place in the UK (beating out Minecraft).
Language, math, and quizzing apps dominated the most popular apps of 2020. Duolingo was the most popular globally and across the US, the UK and Spain, two years in a row. Kahoot! and Photomath jostled for second and third place. New to 2020, was WordReference Dictionary, which came in fourth globally, in the UK and in Spain, and sixth in the US.
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%.
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SCREEN TIME ALL THE TIME
Tips for online safety and screen time
To protect children from bullies, data thieves, pedophiles, fake news, dangerous challenges…
I encourage parents to keep children off social media as long as possible. Kids’ brains aren’t ready for it.”
Video games can produce very negative consequences. If you see your child suffering from social isolation, drop in school performance, aggressiveness, avoidance, frustration … letting them play video games is just not a good idea.”
To protect children’s physical and mental health, make sure kids get physical activity at least 60 minutes a day”
To ensure proper social and neurological development and to lay a solid basis for learning, parents should ensure that kids get face-to-face instruction and are allowed to touch and explore every day. Give your child every opportunity to learn in an off-line way.”
To keep kids off of inappropriate apps and truly understand the content of the games your kids play, setting up parental controls and occasional co-watching of online videos are a must.”
Kids are digital natives, not digital experts. Parents need to educate and talk to their children about the many risks related to social media and life online, just as they would about dangers in the‘real’ world.”
Because online games with chat functionality can be gateways to predators, parents need to be extra vigilant about who their kids are playing with and review game privacy settings. Friends are fine. But friends of friends are not.”
Studies on schools that prohibit mobile phones in school consistently show: higher rates
of concentration, 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.”
SCREEN TIME ALL THE TIME
Important questions arise, what effect will the excess in screen time – 25% more on online video, 76% more on social media, 23% more on video games, 54% more on education, and 49% more on communication – have on children’s physical and mental health not only now, but decades into the future?
Our report is one more indicator that the world is changing and technology is a huge part of it. Propelled by the pandemic, an increasing number of kids worldwide have embraced technology to the point that online is now their main life driver rather than offline. For them, online represents a lifeline and a world full of unwritten rules and opportunity.
Parents now more than ever need to talk to their children about the risks online and really get to know the apps that have become daily parts of their lives – co-play Roblox, watch YouTube as a family, and follow the same influencers their kids do on TikTok.
Like last year, we’ve designed this report with the aim of making it easier to understand which apps kids are using most, what risks to look out for and what to do to create or ensure healthy online habits. We’ll continue to do so for as long as technology is an integral part of children’s lives, and especially as they continue to be locked behind screens due to the pandemic.
While 2021 feels more promising in a sense of stabilization, we expect screen time rates to stay at unhealthy levels and for online risks to remain about the same.
You can be sure we’ll let you know in next year’s report on children’s digital habits.
Thank you for your interest in Qustodio’s research. See you next year.
We want to thank all of the experts who contributed to the creation of this report by sharing their professional advice, experience and insights:
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, Holistic Child Psychologist
Dr. Cecily Dvorak Havert, Primary Care Physician Board Certified in Family Medicine and Top Doc Washingtonian
Malcolm Bain, Legal and Privacy Expert
Marc Masip, Psychologist, Expert in Addiction, and Founder of Desconecta
Maria Guerrero, Family Psychologist
Georgie Powell, Digital Wellbeing Expert, Former Googler, and Founder of Sentient Consulting
Joan Amorós, Psychologist and Founder of Desconnexions and Mobile Free Day
Josep Gaspar, Qustodio Co-founder and Gaming Expert
Like last year, when the pandemic was just beginning, and we were banging pots in solidarity for front-line workers, we want to give special thanks to parents. The pandemic turned many parents into front-line workers at home as full-time educators and caregivers on top of their usual careers. It has been a stressful year, and while 2021 is more hopeful, for many parents the juggling continues. For everything you do to keep your children safe online, and off, we thank you.