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The age that children start surfing the internet without adult supervision has dropped dramatically, a study reveals, despite parents’ fears about kids' exposure to the web.

uSwitch Tech research discovered that the average age that children are using the internet unsupervised has dropped from 11 and a half to four and a half years old.

Of those surveyed, parents whose youngest child is between one and six years old said they started to allow them to use the internet alone from four and a half years. Parents of children whose youngest child is between 13 and 17 had not allowed their child unaccompanied access to the web until they were 11 and a half.

The ‘hands-off’ parenting approach to the internet has become more prevalent despite more than half the sample (51%) admitting they are ‘extremely’ or ‘quite’ worried about what their children could be exposed to online.

Parents are also concerned about how internet use is impacting on their children’s mental health (31%) and their social skills (36%). Close to one in five (23%) are worried about the impact on their children’s physical health, while 15% are worried that youthful indiscretions committed online could impact on their future employment prospects.

However, many parents’ lack of tech knowledge means they’re ill equipped to take action to keep their children safe. More than four in ten (41%) admitted their children’s tech skills are way in advance of their own, while 10% confessed to being ‘technophobes’.

More positively, six in ten (60%) said they had enabled broadband provider-level controls on their child’s internet-capable gadgets. But 43% said they fear broadband providers’ controls are too easily bypassed by older kids and teenagers and are only really useful for young children.

Ewan Taylor-Gibson, broadband expert at, said: “As technology evolves, so too do the tools designed to safeguard kids online – but there are evident concerns from mums and dads that these are not up to scratch, or at least not fit to protect teens.

“If you are a concerned parent, then there is a range of information and tools available online to help you protect your child."

Taylor-Gibson added: "By improving their own tech know how, many parents may feel more confident about their child’s online safety. Understanding what safeguards are available and how these work is a good place to start.

"Third parties, such as Internet Matters, also offer information and guidance for parents including how to guides and e-safety checklists.”

Find out more about keeping your child safe online here: A guide to internet safety for kids.

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