At what age should children be allowed to use the internet?

The internet is an amazing tool, especially for children looking to learn. It is essentially the world's biggest library available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But the web also has a darker side, and parents have to ask themselves the question "when is the right time to let my child go online?" Or, as Director of Online Safety at Microsoft, Kim Sanchez puts it "How old is too young to go online?".

This is a far more complicated problem than it used to be. It is not all that long ago that the average household had no more than one computer, which may not have been connected to the internet. Now, however, we live in a time when households could have multiple computers. There might still be one shared "family" computer, but it is also very common for children to have their own computer or laptop. There are also phones and tablets to think of. Pester power is an incredible thing, and it’s a strong parent who is able to resist giving into demands for a tablets when "all my friends have one".

Parents do have a very tricky balancing act to perform. On one hand it would be foolish to deny a child access to the most valuable educational resource available, but on the other, particularly with younger children, it is something that has to be monitored. Everybody is busy nowadays, and this is certainly true for parents. How many people with children have the time to sit down with their offspring as they do their homework online, ensuring that they don't stray from the beaten track? Some do, but far more are just not able to.

For those times when parents are not able to supervise computer usage, software solutions are available -- Windows includes Parental Controls for instance. But this does not really help with the problem of ensuring that children know how to use the internet "properly" and safely. Kim Sanchez's blog post puts forward some simple tips to help keep children safe online.

According to research carried out by Microsoft, 94 percent of parents permit their children to use one or more online device or service. The average age at which parents said they were happy for independent, unsupervised internet access is a slightly surprising eight years old. How does this fit in with your thinking? With the right education, do you think this is an acceptable age for children to be let loose online?

29 percent of parents said they would allow their children to use a mobile phone without supervision, while 40 percent were happy with the idea of unsupervised computer use. The survey found that people without children of their own expressed stricter views than parents -- 19 percent of parents of children aged between seven and 10 were happy for them to use social networks, compared with eight percent of non-parents.

If you fancy taking the survey for yourself, head over to the How Old is Too Young To Go Online website.

As a non-parent, I do find it hard to know quite where to fall with this. I am of the firm belief that education, as ever, is the key to success. A combination of schools and parents have a responsibility to teach children not only how to use the internet, but how to do so safely. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.

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