Report reveals internet addiction culture

Research warns that children spend too much time using the internet, becoming exposed to the full range of web content regardless of suitability.

Children in the UK are being "raised online," according to a new report that reveals most young people spend more than 20 hours a week online.

After conducting in-depth interviews with people aged 13 to 18 the Institute for Public Policy Research determined young people to be "constantly connected" through their access to the internet as well as their personal mobile phones.

These new findings represent an increase from 6.2 hours a week in 2006, thanks mostly to social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo.

The research also found that 80 per cent of children between the ages of five and 15 have access to the internet in some form at home.

"The internet offers great benefits and opportunities for young people," Kay Withers, IPPR research fellow said. "But with kids spending an ever increasing amount of time online parents need to be reassured about what they are looking at."

Well over half (57 per cent) of the children participating in the study had encountered pornography online, although most of it was through accidental discovery such as pop-ups and inaccurate search results.

Sometimes, however, access to inappropriate content is no accident when children are exposed to inappropriate content on the internet. One 14 year-old boy who participated in the study shrugged off his school's online restrictions by explaining that students simply use administrator accounts when they are left unattended to change their own settings.

The report makes a number of recommendations to protect children when using the internet, especially since parents seem relatively unaware of their children's online activities.

In 2005, only seven per cent of parents realised that their child had been exposed to sexual content online. With parents unaware of the scope of the problem, and thus unable to help solve it, the IPPR suggested a variety of other potential internet watchdogs.

The IPPR called for social networking sites popular with young people to work together to develop standard guidelines for the activity of children on their sites. Additionally, Ofcom should annually report on the effectiveness of initiatives to reduce harmful internet content.

The IPPR will release the full results of its study next month.

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