Parents are not toddler-proofing their online world, with a huge 87 per cent of parents admitting that they don’t restrict how much time their young children spend online – three-year olds are spending more than four hours a week with these ‘digital babysitters’ and being exposed to potential psychological harm, warns Kaspersky Lab.
There is a significant discrepancy in the ways that parents of young children protect them from harm, through both physical and digital environments, a Kaspersky Lab investigation has uncovered. With the high number of connected devices now in the home, children are on average spending over four hours a week watching video content online – and are only ever three seconds away from danger, yet 87 per cent of parents have neglected to toddler-proof their online world.
Parents take the protection of a child’s physical security extremely seriously. The Kaspersky Lab investigation reveals that 75 per cent of parents put up a stairgate before their child turns three and 57 per cent put locks on their kitchen cupboards, but only a very small proportion – 13 per cent – restrict how much time that children of this age group spend online. This rises just slightly to 33 per cent for four to seven year olds.
The average child spends 40 minutes per day, or 4.6 hours a week, watching online video content on a mobile device. Yet only 13 per cent of parents install online security on their smart phone, laptop or tablet – and 49 per cent have never reviewed the default settings to prevent the child viewing inappropriate material. Examining YouTube’s suggested videos, which sit visibly alongside clips or episodes of popular children’s television programmes such as Peppa Pig, users are just clicks away from content aimed at a more mature audience – featuring violence, guns and nudity.
Tony Neate, CEO of get Safe Online comments, “Parents of young children place high importance on protecting their children from physical harm but often overlook the importance of putting measures in place to protect them when they’re online. Exposure to inappropriate material can have a significant emotional impact on children so we need to help parents understand what they can do to keep their children safe when they’re online. Talking to your children about how to be safe online from a young age - in the same way you would teach them about stranger danger or how to cross the road safely - is a good start. We also advise parents to always install parental controls on all of their devices as a first step to keeping everyone in the family safe online.”
Louise Rolph, mother to three-year-old Lucas and 10-month-old Grace comments, “I’m all too aware of the daily struggle to keep both of my wilful, physically independent children away from physical harm. I’ve had to develop eyes in the back of my head! That being said, I haven’t installed any parental controls on the tablets or smartphones that they use – though I would be horrified to think that they could be susceptible to violent or disturbing content. It’s simply not something that I’ve discussed in depth with my husband or friends – but I think we’d all agree that our child watching something inappropriate would be one of our worst nightmares.”
It’s much easier to identify – and protect children from – risks of physical harm, but emotional harm should be equally prioritised by parents. With results from The Good Childhood Report 2017 showing that young people’s happiness is at its lowest level since 2017, it’s clear that we need to be doing more to protect children from online content that could cause emotional harm.
David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, explains, “Children are fortunate in that the technology available to them enables them to easily swipe and click to access entertainment or information from such a young age. We want to ensure that this freedom to explore the world can continue without sacrificing their emotional safety. The good news is that having parental controls in place and reviewing the default settings per app are two very small steps that we, as parents, can take.”
It's no longer a question of just securing kitchen cupboards and putting stairgates up; parents must also remember to toddler proof their online world. With younger generations becoming more IT literate and parents increasingly turning to mobile devices, online games and apps as a means of entertaining their kids, these results highlight the importance of taking steps to protect them online.
Kaspersky Lab’s top tips for protecting your family online are:
- Supervision – This may seem obvious, but supervise your child’s internet use. Encourage them to visit and stay on websites you’re familiar with. If you have any concerns, look at their browsing history. Be sure to know about any password-protected sites they may be accessing and ask them to share their login details with you.
- Be open – Encourage your child to be open about what they are doing online and who they are socialising with. Promote a culture of safety within the home and talk about the possible dangers which exist.
- Protect your family – Use parental controls to block access to sites you don’t want your child looking at as part of your online security product – it’s an easy way to avoid disaster. Review the default settings on each app that your child uses to ensure that the camera or microphone, for example, aren’t needlessly turned on as these can pose a threat.
 Arlington Research for Kaspersky Lab, September 2017 involving 1000 parents of 0-16 year olds
 UK homes with children have an average of 10.9 internet-enabled devices. Aviva Digital Living report, January 2017
 The average size of the UK house is 76m2, (shrinkthatfootprint.com) divided by the number of digital devices – meaning a child has access to an internet enabled device every 6.9m – taking only 3 seconds for the average toddler to reach one.