Growing up online

Sammy Cattlin, Research Executive, discusses recent research findings on how children’s online behaviour ‘matures’ with age…

Conducting research with children is certainly very different to research with adults, but can be among the most rewarding projects. Being a researcher in my mid-twenties, it has been fascinating to be involved in some of Optimisa’s own research investigating children’s online behaviours.

As a society, we understand many of the effects that growing up in an online environment has on children. They are exposed to the infinite nature of the web from an early age and therefore become online savvy very quickly. But how do their behaviours change as they grow older?  What motivates them to go online?  What do they do once they’ve logged on?  And what are their attitudes to pirated material?

In a recent study, we identified four age groups, each with their own distinctive online behaviour.


6-8 year olds – The ‘Content and Guided’

Although very young, this group can go online and navigate the environment with ease. By this age many are playing games in online environments for entertainment. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, online activity is very much under parental control, with app purchases often inhibited by security passwords.  We found that this audience are generally happy with content accessible for free and rarely question why they do not have access to ‘paid for’ content.

“When I want to find something online, I type in ‘girl games for free’ in to the app store. When they say ‘get’ I can have them, but when they have numbers you can’t because it costs a lot of money”


9-11 year olds – The ‘Curious Developers’

It is at this age that most children get their first smartphone, resulting in increasing exposure to a variety of online environments. Peer influence fuels curiosity among this audience and this is reflected in the diversity of sites that they choose to engage with.  They appear to be more interested in their hobbies rather than simple online gameplay, and are beginning to use social media to communicate with their peers and family.  YouTube usage accelerates among this age group and becomes one of their preferred sources for media content, which is widely talked about and shared with friends.  With an increasing exposure to online environments, there is also greater awareness of online piracy too.  Parents are still consulted to reassure or confirm which sites they should or should not be using.

“I sometimes watch the news at school and it came up with some illegal things and they were talking about how you shouldn’t download from them”


12-14 year olds – The ‘Aided Discoverers’

Increasing levels of interaction across online environments define this age group. Their social media usage continues to grow and they are more independent.  They regularly share and recommend content, and are following an increasingly global network of peers and influencers.  Due to their growing levels of experience in navigating online, this age group are able to find content for free relatively easily; paying for content is often seen as unnecessary.  This increasing awareness and usage of popular ‘pirate’ sites shows that they take the view that online content is out there to be consumed, whether legal or not.

“We share things to find content because it’s just a lot easier than searching yourself.”


15-18 year olds – The ‘Independent Online Consumers’

Young adults are very confident in their own ability and knowledge and are highly adept in finding and accessing content online. Viewing pirated content is normal behaviour, with various sites known and browsed in order to access their desired content.  As with ‘Aided Discoverers’, sharing content, as well as login details, for certain websites are common occurrences.  However, the notable difference, and a defining characteristic, is the desire of this age group to view entrepreneurial content.  Seen as not only inspirational but aspirational, respondents welcome the opportunity to become an entrepreneur and be in control of their own futures and enjoy using the information available online to help achieve this goal.

“If I was going to watch a series I would go online because even though it’s not really allowed it’s quite professional”


The World Wide Web is clearly an important portal for young consumers growing up. Our research highlights that motivations to go online, and behaviours once there, change significantly in a relatively short space of time.  This generation are true digital natives, but what will happen to the next generation?  How will their behaviours and attitudes change?  One thing is for sure, it will be very interesting to find out!

To find out more about Optimisa Research and the study we conducted in this area, get in touch – or 0844 245 65 95