The research, carried out by independent comparison service uSwitch.com, revealed that 3m UK families had discovered that their children had viewed violent, explicit, or pornographic material on the internet, with the youngest age quoted being two years old.
Marie-Louise Abretti, a telecommunications expert at uSwitch.com, said: “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.”
A 2013 survey by Microsoft Advertising found that the average UK household has six devices that were capable of connecting to the internet, and this latest report suggests that parents are struggling to keep up with the expanding amounts of technology, and how to make it safe for their children.
“Schools, mobile networks and broadband providers all play a part in keeping children safe online, but parents agree they should take primary responsibility,” said Ms Abretti. “Unfortunately, not all parents are clued up about the many different parental controls available that can filter inappropriate content and keep their kids safe.”
USwitch found that three quarters of parents were unable to name any parental control tools that can be applied to internet- ready devices, and four in 10 said they had none installed.
In an increasing number of cases, parents were resorting to secretly monitoring their children to establish what they looked at online; including looking at their child’s web history and accessing their social media accounts.
These findings come less than a week after a Britsh parliamentary committee review stated that online security for children was “insufficient” and that the police should be given more funding to increase their power to protect children when they use the internet.
British prime minister David Cameron also used Prime Minister’s Questions this month to suggest a broadening of legislation that would look to ban “rape porn”.
Claire Lilley, head of child safety online at British children’s charity NSPCC, called the findings of the report “chilling”.
“The NSPCC has been warning for some time now about the dark influence that extreme, violent and pornographic material can have on children, who can sadly find it relatively easily online,” said Ms Lilley. “This material can be extremely upsetting and confusing for young people, and be damaging at important stages in their development. It gives them a distorted view of sexual relations and puts pressure on children to imitate what is being shown.”
Last month, a 12-year-old British boy admitted raping his sister after watching porn on an Xbox. He walked free from youth court and is now working with social workers ahead of returning to the family home.