How old is too young to go online?

To give, or not to give your child access to the Internet isn’t the question. For many parents, the question is, when? As a parent of two young children, I too have struggled with when to give my kids their first phone, tablet and gaming devices.

Almost all parents, 94 percent, allow their kids to use at least one online service or device, according to a new Microsoft survey, “How Old is Too Young To Go Online.” The poll asked, at what age would consumers allow children unsupervised access to technologies such as mobile devices, social sites and online services. In addition, respondents were asked at what age they would talk to children about online risks.

The answer: eight years old is the average age at which parents allow independent Internet and device use, according to the survey from Microsoft.

Overall, the results reveal that parents may be cooler than kids think. For example, non-parents who took the poll where stricter when it comes to when and how they’d allow children to access online technologies—by an average age gap of two years, with 16 percent saying they would not allow children ages four to six to use a device such as gaming console without supervision.

Compare that with 27 percent of the parents who say it’s okay. And when it comes to online services such as social networking, 19 percent of parents with kids age seven to 10 have given their kids the green light, compared to only eight percent of non-parents who would give them the go-ahead.

What’s more, of parents with children under the age of seven who responded to the survey:

  • Twenty-nine percent allow their children to use mobile phones unsupervised
  • Forty percent allow their children to use a computer unsupervised
  • Forty-one percent allow their children to use a gaming console unsupervised

While some might dismiss the age question, the fact is the interactions children experience online and through gaming actually condition their interpersonal skills. Setting kids up for success early is important. There is no magic age, but rather, parents should take into consideration the appropriateness for their individual family and responsibility or maturity level of their child.

Microsoft has put together a few tips to help start that online safety conversation with the goals to engage, educate, enforce and evaluate the best rules for your family:

· Think before clicking – When kids get unexpected or odd messages, even from friends, tell them not to open photos, songs or other attachments or click links in those messages. Instead, they should first check with the sender by some means other than hitting “Reply.”

· Think before you app – Help kids choose apps that are appropriate for their age and maturity. Get apps that are well reviewed and from reputable sources. Review the privacy policy together to find out what the app will do with location and other sensitive data.

· Support safer social circles – Show kids how to make social network pages private. Ask kids to think twice about who they accept as friends. Consider adding only those whom they or close friends have met in person or with whom they have friends in common. Encourage children to promote a positive image online, and be respectful when posting comments.

For additional guidance, regularly check our Safety & Security Center, where all of our tools and materials are housed, including our Digital Citizenship in Action Toolkit. “Like” our page on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. Get proactive and get involved in online safety. 

About the Author

Director, Online Safety, Microsoft