Children as young as four are spending money online despite tech firms’ claims that they are “safe” for children so young, a study has found.
The survey of 2,000 parents found 12 per cent had experienced their pre-school children spending money online despite their young ages.
Internet Matters, a body that supports parents, said they were often free games advertised as suitable for children of that age, but which then went on to request payments from the youngsters to advance to another level, or buy equipment that could boost their character’s performance.
Ghislaine Bombusa, head of digital at Internet Matters, said children often played them on shared or parental devices which meant the child could access payments or agree it with their parents.
“We advise parents that if they are downloading something onto a shared device or onto their own device, they should have a good look around it and check it,” said Ms Bombusa.
“If you are not able to get the information that you need or it appears to be hiding the fact that it requires spending but claims to be free, then that’s a problem. That’s where we advise that if there is insufficient information, don’t download it.”
The survey also revealed that nearly one in 12 (eight per cent) of four and five year olds had stumbled across sexual content.
A similar proportion (seven per cent) had suffered online trolling or abuse by strangers, while one in eight (13 per cent) had viewed violent content.
The survey found more than two in five parents (43 per cent) were concerned about their children spending money online in games and apps.
There was also concern among parents that children were being tempted into gambling with loot boxes that offered the chance of digital add-ons for their characters in return for cash.
Almost two in five (38 per cent) parents were concerned with their children gambling on websites or in games and/or apps.
Dr Linda Papadopoulos, child psychologist and Internet Matters ambassador, said: “While children may know their way round the latest online video game, many are in over their heads when it comes to understanding the value of money, which is why we see so many headlines about kids accidentally racking up thousands of pounds online.
“Just like it’s natural for us to advise children how to spend their pocket money in the offline world, we need to help them in the online world. It’s important for us to have conversations with them about the risks of spending money online and how they might be susceptible to fraud, scams or other financial harms.
“Also talk to your child about peer pressure they might feel. We know from recent reports that kids have spent hundreds of pounds on items such as loot boxes where they are unsure of the rewards just to keep up with their friends.”
Internet Matters has launched a new hub to help parents address the issue of children’s online money management.
The new guides, released on Tuesday, include advice on in-game spending and new trends such as gifting gaming influencers and buying loot boxes.