- The age a child starts using the internet unsupervised has slipped from 11 and a half to just four and a half years
- More than a third (36%) of parents fear their kids’ social skills will be damaged while 31% worry about the impact on their children’s mental health
- Over one in ten (15%) think their kids’ digital footprints could affect their career prospects due to ‘oversharing’ or using bad language on social media
- Almost a fifth (19%) are worried their lack of tech skills could be putting their children at risk – 44% say their kids’ tech expertise outclasses their own
- Although six in 10 (60%) parents have installed controls on their child’s internet-enabled gadgets, 43% fear these are only fit for purpose for younger kids, not teenagers.
The age children are surfing the internet without adult supervision is dropping, according to new research by uSwitch.com, the independent price comparison and switching service. The average age a child starts using the internet unsupervised has slipped from 11 and a half to just four and a half years old.
Parents whose youngest child is aged one to six years old said unsupervised internet use started at just four and a half years on average. By contrast, parents whose youngest child is 13 to 17 years old said unsupervised access was allowed from 11 and a half.
In spite of this, more than half (51%) of parents admit they are ‘extremely’ or ‘quite’ worried about what their children are getting up to online. Parents of younger children aged one to six years old are most likely to be ‘extremely’ worried (23%) compared to parents of children aged seven to 12 years (10%) and teens aged 13 to 17 years (8%).
Parents are almost as concerned about the impact internet use is having on their children’s mental health (31%) as on their children’s social skills (36%). Almost a quarter (23%) also fear it’ll impact their physical health as kids prioritise internet surfing over the real thing. Around one in seven (15%) worry their offspring’s digital footprints could one day affect their career prospects with future employers.
More than one in 10 (13%) parents of teenagers aged 13-17 believe their child has ‘overshared’ on social media, while 15% say their kids have used inappropriate language on the likes of Twitter and Facebook. More than one in 10 (13%) of parents of teenagers say their child’s internet use has damaged their social skills.
Meanwhile, almost a fifth (19%) of parents are worried their own lack of tech skills could be putting their children at risk. More than four in 10 (44%) say their kids’ tech nous is better than theirs and one in 10 (10%) are self-confessed ‘technophobes’. Around a third (34%) of mums and dads say their skills are good but their kids’ are better.
The vast majority (82%) of parents agree they have the primary responsibility for keeping their children safe online – only 10% believe it’s down to internet service providers.
Although six in 10 (60%) parents claim to have installed controls on their child’s internet-enabled gadgets, there is a lack of confidence in these controls. More than four in 10 (43%) say parental controls available from broadband providers are only fit for purpose for younger kids, not teenagers, while 11% think they are not fit for purpose at all.
Almost four in 10 (38%) parents are worried these controls give them a false sense of security and a fifth (20%) of parents with younger children claim their child, aged between one to six years old, has worked out how to get around them.
In a bid to make their children safer online, almost four in 10 (38%) mums and dads have discussed the dangers of the internet with their kids. Almost of quarter (24%) of parents of teenagers befriended their children on social media so they can watch over them, while 21% have changed their teenagers’ privacy settings so their profile and photos are only viewable by their friends. A few have gone for the stealth tactic – 6% of parents have created fake social media profiles, under an alias, for the same purpose.
However, a quarter of all parents (25%) have put a blanket ban on their kids using social media while 28% encourage their children to go outside and play rather than stay at home in front of a screen. Almost a fifth (19%) of parents restrict their child’s internet use to when they are present, particularly parents of children aged one to six (23%).
Ewan Taylor-Gibson, broadband expert at uSwitch.com, comments: “Children as young as four are potentially being exposed to inappropriate content online because they are using the internet unsupervised.
“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.
“Although parents agree their children’s safety is primarily their own responsibility, many are not completely confident in their tech abilities and are worried that this puts their children at risk. If you are a concerned parent, then there is a range of information and tools available online to help you protect your child.
“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.”
uSwitch.com’s online safety guide for parents is available here.
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uSwitch is an online and telephone price comparison and switching service, helping consumers get a better deal on gas, electricity, home phone, broadband, digital television, mobile phones and personal finance products including mortgages, credit cards, current accounts and insurance.
Energy customers have the option to create an account to automatically monitor the market and notify them when they can move to a cheaper tariff - making future comparisons even simpler and faster. In 2014, uSwitch saved UK consumers over £112m on their energy bills alone.
Broadband customers can conduct a speed test to find out how fast their broadband is and to identify the best broadband provider for their postcode.
uSwitch was the first comparison site to achieve the Plain English Campaign’s Internet Crystal Mark, recognising that it has clear language, is accessible and easy to use.
uSwitch has a UK contact centre which is manned by energy and broadband experts. The ‘Send Us Your Bill’ service allows customers to post their latest energy bills to FREEPOST USWITCH in order to receive a free call back to be guided through the comparison process. Alternatively, consumers can email firstname.lastname@example.org with their postcode and usage details. uSwitch’s address is Notcutt House, 36 Southwark Bridge Rd, London, SE1 9EU.
uSwitch is owned by Zoopla Property Group Plc (LSE:ZPLA), a digital media business that owns and operates some of the UK's most widely recognised and trusted online brands including Zoopla, PrimeLocation, SmartNewHomes and HomesOverseas.