Press release:

Back to school gadgets spend triples to £1.2 billion

  • A third of parents (34%) will buy new gadgets for their children this autumn[1], spending £397 per household[2] – almost triple last year’s back-to-school spend of £134[3]
  • A child’s school bag now contains £219 worth of gadgets, with 13% carrying more than £500 worth of kit[4]
  • The vast majority (95%) of mums and dads believe being tech savvy will improve their child’s future career prospects[5]
  • The average child spends 3½ hours a day using gadgets, not including TV, while 14% spend more than seven hours a day[6]
  • More than a quarter (26%) of parents say their kids have broken gadgets in the first three months of ownership, while 20% say they’ve been lost or stolen at school[7].

‘Back to school’ once meant shiny new shoes and a pencil case bursting with stationery but, this autumn, parents will splurge £1.2 billion on back-to-school smartphones, tablets and laptops for their brood[8], according to new research by uSwitch.com, the independent price comparison and switching service.

Despite fears from more than a quarter (27%) of parents that gadget-filled backpacks will make their children prime targets for thieves[9], mums and dads will spend £397[2] per household on new gadgets ahead of the start of the new school year – which is almost three times last year’s outlay of £134[3]. 

Almost a fifth (17%) of parents plan to buy new mobile phones for their offspring, while 18% will buy tablets or laptops[1]. Mums and dads estimate their child’s school bag now contains £219 worth of gadgets, with 13% carrying more than £500 worth[4].

The average child now spends 3½ hours a day using gadgets, while 14% spend more than seven hours a day[6]. The vast majority (95%) of mums and dads believe being tech savvy will improve their child’s future career prospects[5], and more than a fifth (21%) cite this as their main reason for kitting their kids out with new tech[10].

The average British child gets their first gadget at 8 years and 11 months old[11]. Six in ten (60%) primary school children have at least one gadget and more than a fifth (21%) have mobile phones, while almost one in 10 (9%) have tablets[12]. Meanwhile, nine in 10 (90%) secondary school children have gadgets, with 40% owning mobile phones[12].

Primary school children are more likely to own a mobile phone without internet access than a smartphone, while secondary school children are three times more likely to have a smartphone than a feature phone[12].

Homework is the main reason parents will treat kids to new gadgets, according to 28% of respondents[13], with more than half (51%) of children now relying on laptops, a third (34%) using tablets and 19% using desktop computers[14]. A smaller proportion, 15%, make use of smartphones for homework[14].

But the majority of schools appear to have a no-tolerance policy on gadgets, with 39% of parents reporting that their child’s school bans and confiscates them if found[15]. 35% said gadgets were allowed and widely used, but not in lessons while more than one in 10 (13%) parents said gadgets were incorporated into their children’s lessons and widely used for educational purposes[15].

52% of parents cite buying their child a smartphone primarily for safety reasons and 42% so they could keep in touch with a parent or relative who lives or stays away from home[16]. A fifth (20%) of parents admitted to caving to peer pressure, and bought their child a phone as all their friends had one[16].

In spite of their generosity, parents do have some concerns. More than half (55%) fear their child’s social skills will be impacted as a consequence of their technology habits, while 44% worry about what it might be doing to their children’s verbal communication skills[17]. Almost half (49%) are concerned a reliance on gadgets will make their offspring’s handwriting worse, and 58% are concerned they’ll become too reliant on spell check[17].

Table shows parents’ concerns regarding their child’s gadget use:

How worried are you about the following?

Very concerned

Quite concerned

Not concerned

Using gadgets will make my child’s handwriting worse

10%

39%

52%

Using gadgets will make my child too reliant on spell check

16%

42%

42%

Using gadgets will affect my child’s mental math skills

13%

35%

52%

Using gadgets will negatively affect my child’s verbal communication skills

13%

31%

56%

I won’t be able to help with their homework as my own tech skills aren’t good

8%

26%

66%

Using gadgets will negatively affect my child’s social skills

16%

39%

45%

Using gadgets will negatively affect my child’s attention span

13%

40%

47%

Source: uSwitch.com survey August 2016

Meanwhile, more than a quarter (26%) of parents say their kids have broken gadgets in the first three months of ownership, while 20% say they’ve been lost or stolen at school[7]. There are also school bullies to contend with – and 16% of parents say their child has been picked on over their gadgets, with the most common form of teasing focusing on the brand of the gadget[7].

Ernest Doku, technology expert at uSwitch.com, says: “Parents are recognising that kitting out children with tech builds on what they’re now learning in the classroom – such as how to code and create their own programs. This might be over the heads of many mums and dads, but it’s great that most are recognising this is need-to-know stuff for their kids.

“When it comes to what investments to make, the key is to understand what your child needs to use the device for – it might be primarily for browsing, in which case a tablet or smartphone can work, or if it’s for writing you might find a laptop or PC works better. With the majority of today’s gadgets being connected to the internet, it’s worth just making sure you’ve set up parental controls on their device or installed security software that blocks access to potentially harmful sites. This helps gives peace of mind to parents, whilst still giving children the freedom to explore and learn online.

“If you’re making some big investments ahead of the new school year, insurance might also be a wise choice, with many policies extending to cover family members who live in the same house.”

For more information visit www.uswitch.com or call 0800 093 0607

— ends —

Notes to editors

Survey conducted online via Censuswide in August 2016 among 1,000 UK parents with at least one child aged  5-16. Throughout this survey ‘gadgets’ refers to electronic devices or technology such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers, MP3 players, iPods, smartwatches and other wearable tech items. We asked respondents not to include calculators or televisions.

1.     Respondents were asked: ‘Ahead of the start of the autumn term in September, will you be buying any of the following gadgets for your child(ren) before they go back to school?’- 33.6% selected smartphone, tablet, mobile phone, MP3 player/iPod, desktop computer, e-reader, smartwatch, other wearable gadgets, or other

2.     Respondents were asked: ‘How much do you plan to spend on back to school gadgets for your children this year? (please think about the total amount for all of your children)’- the mean response was £396.90

3.     In a survey conducted online via Censuswide in August 2015, UK parents with children aged 16 or under were asked: ‘‘How much do you plan to spend on back to school gadgets for your children this year? (please think about the total amount for all of your children)’- the mean value was £134.13

4.     Respondents were asked: ‘On average, what do you think is the combined value of the gadgets one of your children takes to school each day in their school bag?’- the mean response was £218.90

5.     Respondents were asked whether they agreed with the following statement: ‘Being tech savvy will improve my child’s future career prospects?’- 95.3% selected ‘agree’

6.     Respondents were asked: ‘How many hours a day does your child(ren)/do your children spend using gadgets (not including TV)?’- the mean response was 3.5 hours, 14% selected more than 7 hrs per day

7.     Respondents were asked: ‘Has/have your child(ren) ever had the following happen?’- 26% ‘broke a gadget in the first 3 months of owning it’, 11.6% ‘lost a gadget at school’ and 8.2% ‘had a gadget stolen from school’, 8.2% ‘been bullied/teased about the brand of gadget they are using’, 6.1% ‘been bullied/teased because they don’t have a certain type of gadget’, 1.7% ‘been bullied into giving their gadget to another child’

8.     Respondents were asked: ‘How much do you plan to spend on back to school gadgets for your children this year? (Please think about the total amount for all of your children)’: 2.4% said £0, 16.5% said £1-£100, 14.7% said £101-£200, 14.1% said £201-£300, 11.4% said £301-£400, 13.2% £401-£500, 7.5% said £501-£600, 6% said £601-£700, 7.2% said £701-£800, 2.1% said £801-£900, 1.5% said £901-£1,000, 1.2% said £1001-£1,500, 1.2% said £1501-£2000, 0.6% said £2001-£2500 0.6% said £2501-£3000. The mean value is £396.90. There are 8,981,340 children aged 5-16 in the UK according to ONS Population Estimates for mid-2015. 34% of parents will spend money on back to school gadgets. 34% of 8,981,340 is 3,053,656. £396.90 x 3,053,656 = £1,211,996,066

9.     Respondents were asked: ‘How do you primarily feel about your child(ren) carrying valuable gadgets with them to school?’ – 26.8% selected ‘worried that somebody will steal the gadgets’

10.   Respondents were asked: ‘What’s the main reason you’ll be buying these gadgets?’- 21.3% selected ‘I want to give my child a headstart as tech is central to their future career prospects’

11.   Respondents were asked: ‘At what age was your child when you first bought the following gadgets for them?’- the mean response for all gadgets was 8.9 years

12.   Respondents were asked: ‘Which of the following do your child(ren) carry in their backpacks to school?’. Responses were split as follows. Primary school: 10.8% mobile phone without internet, 10.1% smartphone, 8.7% tablet, 6.7% MP3 player/iPod, 6.5% handheld games console, 5% laptop, 3% e-reader, 3% smartwatch, 1.6% other wearable gadgets, 2.8% had no children at primary school age, 40.2% ‘none of the above’ Secondary school: 9.9% mobile phone without internet, 29.7% smartphone, 7% tablet, 7.6% MP3 player/iPod, 3.5% handheld games console, 5.3% laptop, 2% e-reader, 1.8% smartwatch, 1.6% other wearable gadgets, 2.4% had no children at secondary school age, 9.7% ‘none of the above’

13.   Respondents were asked: ‘What’s the main reason you’ll be buying these gadgets?’- 28.1% selected ‘they need them for homework’

14.   Respondents were asked: ‘Does your child(ren)/do your children rely on any of the following gadgets for homework?’- 50.6% said laptops, 34.3% tablets, 18.8% desktop computer and 15.1% smartphones

15.   Respondents were asked: ‘What is your child(ren)’s school’s policy on gadgets?’- 39.7% selected ‘gadgets are banned and confiscated if found’, 34.6% ‘gadgets are allowed and widely used but are not allowed in lessons’ and 13% ‘gadgets are allowed in lessons and widely used including for educational purposes in lessons’

16.   Respondents were asked: ‘What are the main reasons you bought your child(ren) their first smartphone?’- 52.4% selected ‘for safety reasons (for example to keep track of them)’, 42% ‘to keep in touch with a parent or relative who lives away from/spends time away from my child’ and 19.5% ‘because their friends have one’

17.   See table above

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