Most parents allow unsupervised internet access to children at age 8

How old is too young for kids to go online unsupervised? Age 8, according to a Microsoft study.

When you consider all types of devices with online connectivity -- mobile phones, gaming consoles, tablets, laptops, PCs, smart TVs, e-readers, etc. -- there is a good chance you are online as much, if not more, than you are offline. If you are a parent of a young child, then you probably have purchased techy toys for either fun or for learning; as your child grows, then you must also decide at what age your child can go online, for how long, where, and for what purposes. Microsoft asked 1,000 adults, both parents and non-parents, "How old is too young for kids to go online unsupervised?"

The answer: eight years old is the average age at which parents allow independent Internet and device use.

Ninety-four percent of parents said they allow their kids unsupervised access to at least one device or online service like email or social networks. The poll found that most parents allow their kids access to gaming consoles and computers at age eight.

However, when it comes to kids under the age of seven?

  • 41% of parents allow them to use a gaming console unsupervised.
  • 40% allow unsupervised access to a computer.
  • 29% of parents allow their kids under age 7 to use a mobile apps unsupervised.

The poll also asked about teaching online safety to kids. Eighty-nine percent of people without kids and 74% of parents "agree that parents should provide online safety guidance."

Are you flipping kidding me? If an eight-year-old child is online, unsupervised, without safety guidance, then that seems like a recipe for disaster. And kids installing mobile apps without supervision...does that mean they know all about checking out the permissions that apps ask for and what is and is not acceptable?

Microsoft's survey found that the average age is between 11 and 12 for kids to start using mobile phones, texting and social networks, which could still potentially be disastrous without some kind of parental online safety guidance. For example, 14-year-old and 12-year-old girls were charged with aggravated stalking of a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide by jumping from the third floor of an abandoned cement plant tower.

When the father of the 14-year-old girl was asked about his daughter's malicious harassing and cyberbullying, he told The Associated Press, "None of it's true. My daughter's a good girl and I'm 100% sure that whatever they're saying about my daughter is not true."

Oh really? Maybe the dad should check out his daughter's bragging on Facebook. "'Yes, I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself but I don't give a ...' and you can add the last word yourself," quoted the sheriff from the girl's Facebook post.

Does unsupervised device and social network usage, with or without online safety guidance, still seem wise? People without kids responded an average of two to three years later as acceptable for allowing device usage, meaning parents are less strict and "may be cooler than kids think."

Some parents choose to use parental controls to limit their kids' Internet access, as seen in the "how old is too young to go online" debate on HardForum. Knowledge is power, and the Internet can teach kids all manner of topics, including teaching future hackers how to get around parental controls. Other parents reach out to other geeks for the answers, including help in choosing "a suitable mobile phone for a four-year-old."

So how old is too young for kids to go online? Microsoft's Kim Sanchez, Director of Online Safety, wrote, "There is no magic age, but rather, parents should take into consideration the appropriateness for their individual family and responsibility or maturity level of their child."

Although there may be no "correct" answer about what age you should allow your child to use different devices with or without supervision, you might be surprised as to whom parents and non-parents say is responsible for teaching kids about online safety. 51% of parents suggested that teaching online safety is the responsibility of teachers; 28% said it should be tech companies or relatives; 25% said such guidance should come from friends; and 22% of parents want to leave it to the government!

Come on, folks, this isn't the sex talk, isn't taboo - it's online safety! Teaching kids about online "stranger danger," thinking before clicking links or opening email from someone they don't know, covering the web cam when not in use, thinking before sharing any idea that pops into their heads on social networks or in texts, thinking before accepting every new friend or follower, or thinking before sharing every picture they take is as important as teaching kids not to take candy or rides from strangers. Sure, there are great people online, but there are also cyberstalkers and those who are truly evil...they hope you don't teach your kids about being safe online.

Test drive Microsoft's survey if you want, or download the results in PDF or PPT.

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