Parents' ignorance of children's internet habits like 'letting them roam the streets unsupervised'

British children spend an average of 130 minutes per day online, with more than a quarter admitting that their parents have on idea what they viewing on the internet.

Young people also said they spent 36 minutes each day doing things online they knew their parents would disapprove of, according to a new report.

Dr Tanya Byron, who was commissioned by Gordon Brown to investigate the harmful effects of video games and websites, warned parents letting children play unchecked on the internet is just as dangerous as allowing them to roam the streets unsupervised.

Children looking at screen

Children spend an average of 130 minutes a day online, but parents often don't know what they are viewing

She added that people needed to adapt to parenting ‘in the 21st century’ and ensure they were meeting their responsibilities ‘online as well as offline.’

The leading child psychologist added: ‘A lot of parents do not realise that it's the same as opening the door and going out into the street, opening that [web] browser.

‘You teach your children about safety before you allow them to cross the road by themselves.’

She added that increased fear about letting kids play outside meant they were ‘kept in captivity, effectively living their childhood online’.

Dr Byron said it was important to try and ensure children spent more time away from the screen and interacting in the real world.

‘The research shows that our kids are spending more than two hours online every day, and that is not counting television and video game times. That is a lot of time sat down. As a nation we have to address that.’

According to the report, which Dr Byron commissioned with broadband provider TalkTalk to launch new online education campaign Brighter Sparks, 62 per cent of children said they lied to their parents about what they do on the internet.

And while many parents believe the internet is a more dangerous place for kids than the real world, almost half have never looked at their child’s internet history to check what sites they have been visiting.

Around 44 per cent admitted they had no idea that social networking sites had a legal minimum age limit of 13.

More than 1500 parents and children were questioned about their internet habits.

Dr Byron said the Brighter Sparks campaign aimed to improve parents' understanding and awareness of how to look after their kids online.

She said: ‘Think of the internet as like a swimming pool. You want your kids to learn how to swim but you would not just throw them in to the deep end.

‘You would go in with them to the shallow end, get them used to the water and wearing water wings.’

Prof Byron, who is Chancellor of Edge Hill University in Lancashire, has previously described parents and other adults as "digital immigrants" who were unfamiliar with the new media world, in which children were the "natives".

Parents "not born with this technology" needed to think about what exactly their children were doing and have a dialogue with them about the right way to behave online.

An recent EU-wide study found 40 per cent of teenagers had been exposed to pornography online, 20 per cent had been bullied and 10 per cent had met up with someone they had been contacting in a chat room or social networking site.

Next month the UK Council for Child Internet Safety delivers its recommendations on how industry, Government and parents can best protect children online.

It was launched in March to answer questions raised by Prof Byron's report, Safer Children in a Digital World, which she was asked to write by the government.