What does it mean to be a child today? What has changed and what has remained the same since the parents of kids today were children? To answer these questions, Viacom International Media Networks/Nickelodeon recently conducted a project with parents of kids under 12 in the UK, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy. Here are key findings from that study:

Parents feel it was easier to be a kid when they were growing up, and that they had more time to do the things they liked.

  • 43% of parents felt it was easier to be a kid when they were growing up – while 30% think it’s easier today and 27% believe both times are about the same
  • 41% had more free time when they were kids – slightly higher than the 37% who say they had as much time to hang around as their kids do

Being able to use technology is the biggest advantage of being a child today, according to parents.

  • 45% of parents say getting to use technology is the best thing about being a child today
  • The next best things are “having more things than I did as a kid” (31%), going to fun places (27%), not having any real responsibilities (22%), and being cared for by parents (18%)

Most parents believe their kids are happy – though parents of 1 to 2 kids are more likely to report this than parents of 3 or more kids. 

  • Overall, nearly 8 in 10 kids are reported to be happy
  • 82% of parents with 1 or 2 kids say their children are happy – compared with 62% of parents with at least 3 kids

Kids are involved in 2 to 3 activities outside of school, with sports as the most popular choice.

  • A third play individual or team sports
  • The next most popular activities are exercise unrelated to sports (17%), music lessons (16%), after-school clubs (15%), after-school care (13%), and dance team or lessons (12%)

Families do an average of 8 activities together, suggesting that family time is still a priority.

  • Watching TV (89%) and playing (79%) are the top family activities
  • The next most popular are going to the park (70%), watching DVDs (69%), going on excursions/day trips (65%), and reading books (65%)

Being polite, taking care of their things, and doing homework are the top rules and responsibilities at home for most kids. 

  • Nearly 9 out of 10 kids are expected to be polite; nearly 8 in 10 are expected to take care of their belongings, do homework, and be honest
  • Others include helping before and after meals (63%), cleaning their rooms (53%), make their beds (39%), help with cooking (32%), and care for pets (32%)

Almost two-thirds of children don’t receive a weekly allowance – but those who do spend it on sweets and toys.

  • Of those who get an allowance, the average is € 2.50
  • 53% buy sweets and treats with their allowance, 45% buy toys, about a third (especially boys) buy collectibles, and a quarter buy books

Parents (especially mothers) are most involved in their children’s lives, followed by grandparents. Mothers also spend more time with kids than fathers.

  • Mothers (95%) are the relatives most likely to be involved with children, followed by fathers (88%) and grandparents (72%)
  • Approximately 45% of siblings, aunts, and uncles play a role in children’s lives, while a third of kids have cousins involved in their lives
  • Most kids spend more time with their mothers (57%), and a third spend equal amounts of time with both parents

Making new friends is easy for most kids. And in spite of the trend toward meeting friends online, they do spend time with friends in person.

  • Over 60% of kids find it easy to make new friends – 1 in 4 rate it as “very easy”
  • Making new friends is slightly easier for girls
  • Over half of kids have 1 to 6 friends that they see in person (with more in the 4-6 range)

More than 9 out of 10 kids like school. Their favorite things about school are being with friends, recess, and gym/sports.

  • Nearly 60% of kids like school a lot; over a third like school a little
  • By far, being with friends is their favorite thing about school (75%)
  • Recess (61%) ranks as their second favorite thing, and gym/sports (42%) slightly outranks learning (40%)

When it comes to TV, kids watch an average of 11 hours per week. Parents are present about two-thirds of the time. 

  • Half of families decide together what shows to watch
  • Older kids have more influence over the TV
  • 40% of parents control what their kids watch – though most let kids have their say
  • Animated children’s shows and cartoons are kids’ favorite TV genres

Kids use an average of 3.5 electronic devices. TV, video game console, and computer/laptop are the main devices kids use regularly.

  • TV is by far the most common device kids use (73%) – followed by video game console (61%), computer/laptop (57%), and portable game systems like DS/PSP (49%)
  • Nickelodeon viewers tend to use more devices
  • TV is the device parents feel would be hardest to live without (40%), followed by laptop (12%) and gaming console (11%)

Carlos Garcia is Sr. Director of Research & Insights for Nickelodeon International. Follow Carlos at @CGarciaConnect