Research: Minors Increasingly Surfing the Net Unsupervised

LONDON—Ofcom, the U.K.’s communications regulator, has released the results of research it conducted showing children as young as 5 years old are regularly accessing the internet without any supervision from their parents.

Indeed, more children than ever before can now access the internet directly from their bedrooms, the research reveals. “Our figures show that 35 percent of 12-15s and 16 percent of 8-11s now have web access in their bedrooms,” Ofcom stated. “That’s up from 20 percent and 9 percent respectively in 2007. At the same time, some 60 percent of 12-15s and one third of 8-11s say they use the internet mostly on their own.”

Regarding the issue of unsupervised internet use, the regulator says that one in five 5- to 7-year-olds say they use the internet without an adult in the room and nearly half of parents whose children use the internet at home say they have internet controls or filtering software in place.

“But our UK Children’s Media Literacy interim report also reveals more than one in 10 parents said they didn’t know such controls were possible,” Ofcom claims.

The low percentage of parents who utilize filtering software is a consistent problem in the United States as well, despite increasing concerns that young people have unrestricted access to a plethora of inappropriate content on the web.

The research indicates that the proportion of minors aged 8 to 11 who have web access in their bedrooms has risen from 9 percent to 16 percent in just the past two years. The figure for children aged 12 to 15 has gone up from 20 percent to 35 percent during the same period and 60 percent of 12- to 15-year-olds and one third of 8- to 11-year-olds say they use the internet mostly on their own.

While the authors of the report claim that younger children aged 8-11 have a preference for learning from parents (59 percent) or at school (47 percent) whereas older children prefer to learn from their peers (46 percent), “a minority of children say they are taught about television at school, but seven in ten 8-11s (71 percent) and four in five 12-15s (84 percent) say they have lessons about the internet.”

The research also found that 11 percent of children aged 5 to 7 owns a mobile phone.

The current results comprise an interim report utilizing one wave of data from spring 2009. Data from autumn 2009 will be amalgamated with it and a full-year report will be published in early 2010, which will provide more detailed reporting in a number of areas, Ofcom said.

For more information, visit the Ofcom website.