Survey: British kids text non-stop, add strangers to Facebook friends’ lists

How many of your Facebook friends have you actually met?

The answer, I suspect, depends on many factors: the amount of time you spend online and what you use Facebook for, amongst many others. But a new study from the UK has found that the average 12 to 15 year old in Britain has never met one out of every four of their Facebook friends – but, despite that, more than 90 percent of them feel confident about their level of online security.

The study comes from British telecommunication and media regulator, Ofcom. Titled Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes, it demonstrated the amazingly high use of technology in modern communications between pre- and early-teens in the United Kingdom. For example, the report reveals that texting is the most popular form of communication between those aged between 12 and 15, with the average youth in that age group sending almost 200 texts a week, double the average of the same age group in 2011. In terms of gender, that breaks down as girls being the far more prolific texters, sending around 221 messages per week on average, with boys sending approximately two thirds of that amount; both genders are far above the adult average, however, which is closer to somewhere in the region of 5o texts per week.

The percentage of smartphone ownership has also risen significantly in that age group, up 50 percent when compared with last year. Ofcom now estimates that around two thirds of Britons aged between 12 and 15 owns a smartphone. “Areas such as texting and smartphone ownership [among teenagers] are fast outstripping the general population,” said Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s consumer group director. “This highlights the challenge that some parents face in keeping up with their children when it comes to technology, and in understanding what they can do to protect children.”

Overall, around 80 percent of parents in the UK feel that they have appropriate levels of control over their children’s Internet usage, even though less than 50 percent have any form of parental controls installed on the devices their children use to access the Internet. With the survey reporting that 80 percent of kids ages 12-15 (and 40 percent of kids aged 5 to 15) have both Internet access and their own social media profiles, that’s perhaps something that may change in the coming months. Of the 80 percent of 12 through 15 year-olds, those with social media accounts have an average of 286 online friends – even though, as pointed out above, they would only consider three quarters of that number “actual” friends, with an average of 72 complete strangers being attached to each account. Nevertheless, 93 percent of those asked feel that they are confident in their personal security online.

The full report is available here; it would be fascinating to see a similar study performed in the US, and see how well the percentages line up – and use that as a guide towards a seemingly more trusting, less personal Internet future.

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