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Over three million British families have found their young children looking at unsuitable material online

  • Over three million (42%) families in the UK have found their children looking at violent, sexually explicit, upsetting or inappropriate content on the internet – the average age their kids view this material is just over four years old

  • Almost two thirds (65%) of parents say their kids were five years old or younger when they first started using the internet – 38% say their kids started surfing aged three or younger, while 19% were just two years old

  • Almost four in 10 (38%) parents have stumbled across their under 16s looking at content containing foul language on the internet

  • Almost a fifth (18%) of parents have found their children looking at violent or sexually explicit material online; 17% have found their kids looking at material about substance abuse, drugs, smoking or alcohol****

  • More than one in seven (14%) parents have found their kids viewing material they consider ‘upsetting’ – such as graphic or disturbing news articles.

New research has revealed that more than three million (42%) British families have found their children looking at violent, sexually explicit, upsetting or inappropriate content on the internet. And the average age that a child first views unsuitable material online is just over four years old, according to a survey of UK parents conducted by, the independent price comparison and switching service.

Almost two thirds (65%) of parents say their children were five years or younger when they first started surfing the net, while almost four in 10 (38%) say their kids were aged three or younger. Nearly a fifth (19%) admit their children first used the internet at the age of two.

The survey found that despite the high number of young children using the web, more than a third (36%) of parents have never spoken to their kids about the dangers of talking to strangers online, while less than a third (31%) of parents have never discussed the dangers of the internet with their children at all.

Over a third (38%) of parents found their under 16s looking at content containing foul language while nearly a fifth (18%) reported violent or explicit material being viewed. A further 17% also found their kids at sites talking about substance abuse, drugs, smoking and alcohol. More than one in seven (14%) parents said they had found their children viewing content that they found ‘upsetting’ – such as graphic images or articles.

Many parents have resorted to snooping to keep track of what their kids are up to. Over half (56%)admit to checking the internet history of devices their kids use, while 16% have gone one step further and actually logged into their children’s social media profiles to check who they’ve been talking to.

A high proportion of parents have tried being strict to keep their children safe online, with 41% saying they have imposed bans on their kids using live chat rooms. Almost four in 10 (39%) have uploaded parental control software to try and block sites with explicit or unsuitable content, and over a third (34%) only let their kids use the internet if the screen is within their sight.

The table below shows what steps parents have taken keep their children safer online. Respondents could select multiple answers:


The research also shows there is still a huge number of parents in the dark about the options available to them when it comes to filtering the content their little ones can access. Almost three quarters (74%) of mums and dads couldn’t name any parental control tools or software off the tops of their heads, and more than four in 10 (42%) have no parental controls on home computers that are used by their children. Nearly two thirds (64%) have never installed parental controls on smartphones that are used by their children, and more than half (58%) have never installed such software onto their kids’ smartphone either.

The table below reveals whether or not parents have installed parental controls on various internet-connected devices in their households. Results shown are from respondents whose children have access to these devices only:


When it comes to who should take the most responsibility for protecting children online, 80% of respondents agree that it rests primarily with parents, although 12% said the buck should stop with broadband and mobile providers. Only 6% said the government should take responsibility while just 3% said it’s down to schools to keep kids safe online.

Marie-Louise Abretti, telecoms expert at, says: “Our research reveals a staggering number of children exposed to inappropriate content online at a worryingly young age. Nowadays, children not only have access to home computers, but also portable devices such as tablets and smartphones, so it’s far harder for parents to keep tabs on what their children are getting up to.

“However, it is possible to restrict what they can view. Simply having a smartphone registered to a child user will stop them being able to access adult content. You can also turn off location services used by apps like Facebook, which stops other people being able to see where your child is.

“Schools, mobile networks and broadband providers all play a part in keeping children safe online, but parents agree they should take primary responsibility. Unfortunately, not all parents are clued up about the many different parental controls available that can filter inappropriate content and keep their kids safe.”

Marie-Louise’s top tips to keep children safe online: 

  1. Stress that stranger danger applies online as much as in real life. If your child uses chat rooms, Twitter, befriends people they’ve never met on Facebook or Skype, or enjoys online gaming, then they’re most likely interacting with strangers.

  2. Ramp up your child’s privacy settings. You can set your child’s Facebook privacy settings on high so their profile picture and all their personal information is invisible to all but their friends.

  3. Make use of free parental control software such asTalkTalk HomeSafe or Virgin Media’s Child Safe that let adults monitor what sites their children are visiting and blocks inappropriate content. Some also allow parents to place time restrictions on their child’s usage.

  4. Don’t forget about portable devices. There is no point in making only the family computer safe if your child has access to the internet via a smartphone or tablet. Try apps like Norton’s Family Premier Mobile or Bitdefender.


Maja Hauke

Phone: 0207 148 4663


Notes to editors

Data collected March 2014 from survey of 1,334 UK adults online via the uSwitch Consumer Opinion Panel.  

  1. Parents were asked ‘have you ever found your child looking at any of the following online?’ – 11.2% said yes to violent material, 6.4% said yes to sexually explicit material, 14.2% said yes to upsetting material (including upsetting news articles), 37.9% said yes to bad language, 6.9% said yes to material about substance abuse or drugs, 9.9% said yes to material about smoking and alcohol. So combined 18% said yes to violent material and sexually explicit material, 17% said yes to abuse, drugs, alcohol and smoking and 42% to at least one of them. According to ONS there are 18.2million families in the UK of which 7,739,000 have dependent children. The survey asked parents, 42% of 7.7million = 3,250,380

  2. Parents whose children had viewed inappropriate content were asked at what age their children saw it. The results were: violent material 4.7 years, sexually explicit material 3.3 years, upsetting material (including upsetting news articles) 4.2 years, bad language 7.7 years, material about substance abuse or drugs 3 years, material about smoking and alcohol 3.1 years. The mean age across all these categories was 4.3 years.

  3. Parents were asked ‘at what age did your children first start using the internet? (if you have more than one, please think about your youngest). The responses were 2 years 18.5%, 3 years 19.3%, 4 years 14%, 5 years 13.6%, 6 years 10.1%, 7 years 6.3%, 8 years 6.9%, 9 years 3.2%, 10 years 5.1%, 11 years 1.6%.

  4. Parents were asked ‘Have you ever tried doing any of the following to keep your child(ren) safer online?’ – the results can be viewed in the first table above.

  5. Parents were asked ‘can you name any internet parental controls/software?’ – 25.8% said yes, 74.2% said no

  6. Parents were asked ‘have you set up any parental controls on any of the following internet-connected devices in your household? Responses from those whose children have access to these devices can be viewed in the second table above.

  7. Parents were asked to rank from 1 to 4 which group should take the most responsibility for keeping kids safe online - 80% ranked parents first, 12% ranked broadband & mobile providers first, 6% ranked the government first and 3% ranked schools first.

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