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Toddlers and tablets: exploring the risks and benefits 0-5s face online

Children aged between 0 and 5 are experiencing an extraordinary shift in media consumption. They intuitively swipe screens and press buttons on tablet computers and smartphones, using apps and accessing the internet. With an estimated five-fold increase in their tablet usage (2012 to 2013), there’s an urgent need for research and policy development to maximise benefit and minimise risk. This project investigates family practices and attitudes around very young children’s internet use in Australia and the United Kingdom, and contributes to public debate and evidence-based policy in Australia, the United Kingdom and Ireland. It develops recommendations for policy makers and offers guidelines for parents of three age groups: 0-1, 2-3 and 4-5.

This research is significant and addresses an urgent and important problem because there is currently little reliable information about very young children’s internet use in Australia, even though the subject is gaining some media attention (“iTantrum latest trend for toddlers”, 2013; “The craze for tablets and smartphones is spreading” , 2014; “iBubs turn into techno toddlers, 2011). In addition to this, it seems that children aged between 0 and 5 are yet to be considered in policy debate and development. The Australian Government is currently conducting public consultation (closed 7 March 2014) around related issues including “the establishment of a Children’s e-Safety Commissioner; developing an effective complaints system, backed by legislation, to get harmful material down fast from large social media sites, and examining existing Commonwealth legislation to determine whether to create a new, simplified cyber-bullying offence”

(Department of Communications, 2014). This Discussion Paper comments that “Almost daily internet use is common for children as young as eight or nine” (p. 2) indicating that 0-5 year olds are not specifically included in the consultation, possibly because this age group is yet to be identified as a policy priority or because their internet activities are deemed to be fully under the purview of their parents. Observational data of very young children using touch screen technologies in public places, such as cafés and cars, would not appear to justify this view.

Funding agency

Australian Research Council

Project duration

January 2015 – December 2017


Dr Lelia Green
Dr Donell Holloway
Professor Sonia Livingstone (The London School of Economics and Political Science, Harvard University)
Doctor Brian O'Neill (Dublin Institute of Technology)

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