By JULIA LAWRENCE
According to a survey of parents around the world, thanks to the internet, kids are being exposed to adult content at an ever earlier age.
More than 19,000 parents took part in an online study conducted by Bitdefender, an anti-virus company based in Bucharest. In addition to information collected via a survey, the company also incorporated data from its parental control products (PDF), including the list of sites that parents choose to block and which services children access on a regular basis.
Some of the more troubling findings published on the Bitdefender website include that children are beginning to surf for online pornography as early as age 6. By age 12, more than 25% of young people had at least one account on a social networking website – even though many restrict membership before the age of 13. More than 15% were using social media as early as age 10.
Lying is a commonly used technique to bypass age restrictions in place for sites like Twitter and Facebook. In all, on the internet, children’s usage habits differed very little from those of young adults, according to Bitdefender’s Chief Security Strategist Catalin Cosoi.
Bitdefender research also discovered teenagers leave instant messaging to the younger kids, as they prefer to access popular “hate” websites that allow children to post violent or racist messages. These websites also include content that discriminates on the basis of religion or sex, and some belong to terrorist organizations. Over 17 per cent of all children accessing “hate” websites are 14 years old, followed by 15 year-olds (16.52%) and 16 year-olds (12.05%).
The report also showed that windows of maturity tend to correspond with certain kinds of websites. Kids between the ages of 10 and 14 make up the majority of young users on websites that peddle hate or provide computer hacking tips. Although 18-year-olds comprise fewer than 2% of users of Bitdefender-identified hate websites, more than half of their regular under-18 visitors are between the ages of 14 and 16. Eighteen year-olds make up about 3.2% of visitors on websites that discuss ways of bypassing various computer security measures, but nearly one in ten visitors from the under-18 demographic to the same websites are only 12 years old.
“Kids lie about their age to get access to something they want to explore, in this case a social network,” says Jo Webber, CEO of Virtual Piggy, a website that enables kids to manage and spend money within a parent-controlled environment. “It’s no different than my generation lying about age to get cigarettes or into a bar.”
Webber points out that this generation of children were born into an Internet-centric society.