Parents are unaware of the dangers their children face by posting details about themselves on social networking sites and must do more to monitor their use of sites such as Bebo and Facebook, watchdog Ofcom said today.
It published research showing that 27% of eight to 11-year-olds who have internet access bypass online age restrictions to put their profiles online.
The report found that many parents and children lack awareness of the issues surrounding privacy and safety on the internet.
Since they first appeared in the late 1990s, social networking sites have flourished with the launch of Friends Reunited in 2000 and more recently Bebo, MySpace, Facebook and a Saga site for over-50s.
Today Ofcom said the websites – many of which are based in the US – could do more to remind people of the risks involved in putting all their details online.
The research found that, of those with internet access, almost half of youngsters aged eight to 17 and just over a fifth of adults now have a profile on a social networking site.
But 16% of parents do not know who can see their children’s profiles and many believe that their children are safer online than they actually are.
While 41% of children admitted that they did not use privacy settings, only 30% of parents knew that their children’s profiles were open to view by anyone online.
The research also found that although 65% of parents claim to set rules on their child’s use of social networking sites, only 53% of children said their parents set such rules.
Robin Blake, head of media literacy at Ofcom, which commissioned the research, said: ‘People need to recognise that they have a responsibility to manage their own content and their children’s access to content online.
‘There is an issue about parenting, parents who are allowing their children to go online without any supervision.
‘Normal parenting skills come into play. They need to recognise that their children are potentially at risk.
‘When their children go out to play, parents often state ground rules about when they come back and when to meet. Parents need to recognise that going online has the same kind of risks… Having a computer in the child’s bedroom is one of those things.’
But he said there were ‘huge benefits’ for children using the social networking sites, as long as they did so carefully, adding: ‘We don’t want parents to pull the plugs out of the wall.’
Bebo and Facebook state that users must be 13 or older while MySpace users must be 14.
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