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Internet-ready Christmas gifts will put children at risk

Wednesday, December 17th 2014 by Dean Reilly

Children as young as five could be going online for the first time without any safeguards this Christmas, internet safety experts have warned.

Internet Matters.org said that the most popular gifts for children this Christmas will be internet-enabled, but parents need more information about content controls and how to keep their children safe while they are online.

The group reported that 40% of families are expecting to receive internet ready devices as gifts, with children increasingly likely to receive smartphones or tablet computers amongst their Christmas presents.

Yet recent figures from Ofcom highlighted that just 21% of parents set network safety controls at home.

Sonia Livingstone from EU Kids Online, professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics told Cable.co.uk: “As ever younger children go online, often using tools and content designed for older users, it’s important to realise that we don’t yet understand the pros and cons very well (as our review shows).

“Many parents try to keep an eye on their kids’ activities but children are adept at using smart phones or tablets to fill in the gaps – when parents are tired, busy or pre-occupied with something else.”

Professor Livingstone, who advised Internet Matters during their research, added: “Parents should also take care not to overestimate their children’s digital literacy – kids can manipulate tools without necessarily understanding just what they are engaging with.”

Internet Matters spokesperson Carolyn Bunting said: "No one wants to stop children using the latest technology as it can help them develop social skills and be very educational as well as fun.

"But parents need to know how to manage the settings that control what parts of the internet their children see. Our new interactive tool will give parents a personalised guide to how to configure parental controls quickly and simply.

"It will give parents peace of mind and, combined with taking a proactive approach to talking to their children about what they are doing online, will help keep their children protected”

31% of parents told Internet Matters they were unaware of how to set controls on internet-enabled devices, with 40% admitting to never reading instruction manuals that contain this guidance.

This findings led to Internet Matters launching its own step-by-step guide on how to set up parental control tools for a range of connected devices, including smartphones, tablets and games consoles, as well as streaming services like YouTube and the BBC iPlayer.

Internet Matters was launched in May by four broadband providers; BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media. The not-for-profit organisation works towards helping parents keep their children safe online.

The survey of 1,000 parents with children aged between 5-15 was conducted by Internet Matters in December 2014.

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