Four in five parents (80%) have serious concerns about the effect that internet usage will have on their children, but many are still not taking simple steps to protect their children when they are online, according to new research from independent price comparison and switching service,

The findings show that 28% of parents worry their child’s internet use will impact on their mental health. Two in ten (20%) are concerned it will hinder their social skills, while 17% fear that their child’s internet footprint will have ramifications for their future career prospects. A further 15% worry about the impact on their physical health – just one in five parents (20%) does not have any of these concerns.

However, despite these worries, almost three in five (59%) do not use parental controls in order to protect their children whilst online, even though free parental control software is available from most broadband providers. Instead, parents are typically relying on other measures to protect their children online.

These include: talking to them about the dangers of the internet (44%); restricting their child’s internet usage to when they are at home with them (24%); not allowing them to access social media (23%); and reading their emails or messages with (17%) and without (13%) their knowledge.

The research suggests that parents could be unwittingly underestimating the risks as children are being allowed to access the internet at a very young age – with younger parents leading the way on this. While 9% of all parents allowed their oldest child to first access the internet before they were 4 years old, this rose to 22% for parents in the 25-34 age group.

And, while the majority of parents (55%) will have allowed their child internet access by the age of 12, shockingly, 16% of 1-5 year olds are allowed internet access that is unsupervised.

Eoin Clarke, Managing Director of Switcher, said: “There’s no doubt that the internet is an invaluable resource, and reliable broadband is now seen as a household essential. However, while there may be great benefits for children to using the internet, it’s crucial that they are not inadvertently exposed to inappropriate content online. On top of worries about the content they may come across, other issues related to internet usage – such as the impact on children’s health and their social skills – are of significant concern to the vast majority of parents.

“Today is Safer Internet Day, so there’s no better time to highlight these issues. If you are a concerned parent, understanding the safeguards – and how these work – as well as knowing about all of the information available, is a good place to start. Most broadband providers allow customers to install parental controls at a household level, which could give parents some peace of mind, and there are a number of apps available which allow parents to restrict access to certain content and websites. It’s important to remember that, for certain sites – like Facebook and YouTube – detailed privacy settings can be set at a site level.

“Meanwhile, third parties, such as Webwise, have excellent advice and explainers for parents. For example, they advise that if you don’t think your child is old enough to go into the city centre by themselves on the bus or train, then they probably aren’t ready to go on Facebook. Using the tools at their disposal can help parents to improve their own tech know-how, which will allow them to be more confident talking to their children about these issues, and taking the necessary steps to ensure their child’s online safety.”

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