Many children are getting away with behaviour online that they wouldn’t get away with in the real world, largely because of their parents’ lack of understanding and awareness of their internet habits and of safety precautions.

That’s according to TalkTalk (www.talktalk.co.uk), the biggest provider of broadband to Britain’s homes, which found that one in four children (25%) have sent or been sent inappropriate material via email and one in nine (11%) have either bullied someone online or been bullied online themselves.

The research also found that one in 20 (5%) have communicated with a stranger on a webcam and one in 50 (2%) have actually met a stranger they first contacted online.

TalkTalk surveyed 500 children aged between six and 15 to get a better understanding of how children are using the internet.

When asked how much of their internet behaviour they think their parents are aware of, 25% of the children surveyed said “none.” More than six out of ten (62%) say they lie to parents about what they have been looking at online and over half (53%) delete the history on their web browser so their parents can’t see what they have been looking at.

Over half (55%) of children surveyed by TalkTalk said they knew more about the internet than their parents, and almost half (47%) have two hours or more unsupervised on the internet per day.

Tristia Clarke from TalkTalk commented: “We all know there are threats in the virtual world just as there are in the real world, but it’s crucial that parents’ responses to these risks are measured and sensible. Our research underlines the need for greater communication between parents and children – it’s the best way for parents to get a sense of the likely risks to their children and therefore manage and minimise them where possible.”

TalkTalk looked at these issues as part of its Brighter Sparks campaign, aimed at improving parents’ understanding and awareness of how to look after their kids online. The survey findings come from TalkTalk’s eParent Test, designed by child psychologist expert Prof Tanya Byron and available on the site at www.talktalk.co.uk/brightersparks.

Prof Tanya Byron,  author of the Byron Review, said:  “The internet doesn’t have to be a dangerous place for children and in fact can be hugely beneficial to their development and education. As long as parents are armed with effective tools they can ensure their children are spending time online safely and responsibly. But it’s crucial that parents educate themselves about what’s going on online and what their kids are doing there.”

Tristia Clarke from TalkTalk summed up by saying: “Our customers and their families are our number one priority, which is why we have developed the Brighter Sparks campaign. We hope to be able to help parents ensure they are doing everything possible to keep their children safe from potential risks that the internet poses.”

In addition to the Brighter Sparks campaign, TalkTalk offers its customers a free product called Magic Desktop. This service allows parents to introduce young children to a computer in a child-friendly environment and encourages families to use the internet safely and can be downloaded from http://broadband.talktalk.co.uk/magic-desktop.