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Three Year Olds Going Online and Kids Accessing Porn - The Truth About Our Children's Screen Time.

02/05/2013 18:58 BST | Updated 30/06/2013 10:12 BST
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I was once the perfect mother. TV time was strictly controlled, no sugary sweets would pass my little darlings lips, and there was absolutely no way they would be allowed to use iPads, iPhones, Xboxes, computers or any other internet connecting medium until they were mature enough to use them. Possibly not even then.

Of course that was before I actually had any kids.

Now with an eight year old girl, Kaya, who secretly sneaks off with my iPhone to watch Annoying Orange on YouTube, a six year old, Marley, who whispers loudly in my ear at 6.30am 'Mum, are you awake? Can I play the Playstation?' and a four year old, Baxter, whose eyes glaze over with addicted bliss every time the iPad is placed in his greedy little hands - I have to admit that I am guilty of feeding their screen appetite for my own purposes.

'Only two more hours in front of that computer now' the joke goes as the hassled mother catches up on her own work. But how far from the truth in fact is it?

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(Image: Netmums)

Well it seems that I am not the only one who is allowing my kids free reign over the multitude of screens that are available to them in the home. A new survey just released by Netmums has revealed that three is the average age for British kids to start going online, and children actually spend twice as long online each day than their parents realise. As part of the survey a total of 825 children between the ages of seven and 16 were quizzed for the ground-breaking study, alongside 1,127 parents. Whilst three quarters of parents (72.8%) believe their child spends under an hour a day online, in fact children spend an average of two hours a day. And one in seven children (14.4%) are so hooked on the internet they spend four hours or more glued to the screen.

Growing web use also means one in three (28.4%) are struggling with offline activities that require concentration such as reading a book - and half admit going online as they cannot think of anything else to do. This is definitely one that hits home for me. Marley regularly asks for the iPad or iPhone as soon as he steps inside the door after school and if refused will walk forlornly around the house intermittently wailing 'But I've nothing to doooo!'

Perhaps most disturbing though, and a real wake up call to me, was the fact that two thirds of youngsters surveyed (64%) have had a negative experience online - but only 22% of parents realised this. Over half of all kids (57%) have accidentally accessed inappropriate content online. I must admit that I allow all three of my children access to certain channels on YouTube but I know full well how easy it is to stumble onto something inappropriate on there with just the click of a button. Reading about the type of content that these children have viewed is extremely disturbing. The most commonly found inappropriate content was animal cruelty, looked at by 26 per cent of youngsters. A quarter (24%) had accessed eating disorder and 'thinspiration' sites along with one in five who looked at self-harm images. Six per cent have been exposed to violent porn while 18% viewed 'soft' porn sites. One in ten (11%) also viewed suicide sites and child abuse images on the web. It certainly makes that hour of peace and quiet a lot less appealing.

However the most chilling statistic of all for me was that one in twenty kids have met up in real life with a stranger they met online. As a mother of three children who will, without doubt, have access to the internet as they go through their teenage years, that is simply terrifying.

However there is some good news that brings hope to mothers like me - interestingly, it is the children themselves who realise they are spending too much time online, with a third of kids (35%) believing children should spend under an hour a day online - and almost three quarters (72%) want time limited to under two hours. As a busy working from home mother I know that it is all too easy to stick them in front of the computer when I need to finish an assignment or get the dinner on the table, and I also know that I kid myself about the time I allow them to be online. So I'm encouraged by this suggestion, perhaps if a few more rules are implemented the fall-out won't be as bad as I expected.

Of course there are benefits to being connected too. Over a third (36%) said the web meant their children knew far more about the world than they did at the same age, with 82% saying their child has developed 'great computer skills' which will help their future job prospects.

Netmums.com co-founder Siobhan Freegard said: "The web is an amazing invention and a vital part of our kids lives, but technology is moving so fast, that it's impossible to predict the effect it will have on our kids.

"No past generation has ever had access to so much information so fast - and not all of it desirable - along with the use of dozens of different electronic gadgets.

"Some scientists have predicted large amounts of internet exposure may alter the way kids think and in many ways we are in the middle of a giant experiment with our children as the subject. We are raising a generation of technical geniuses - but at what cost?"

Netmums.com has now teamed up with Oxford University to further investigate the phenomenon of children and internet exposure, with findings to be revealed at a later date. Until then I'm going to start implementing some good screen habits in my home whilst I still can.