Digital childhoods: How different nations bring up their kids

Most parents think carefully about when to give their children their first set of house keys, or let them go out to play with no adult supervision. Yet in our digitalized world, the same caution should be exercised in the virtual world, such as on social networks or when giving children their first smart gadgets.

ESET has looked deeper into what parents in the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom and Russia regard as the appropriate age for digital activities.

One of the most notable results is that Russian parents are the most strict with their offspring at younger ages. Until boys and girls celebrate their fifth birthday, close to zero (according to ESET’s dataset) have their own mobile gadgets or are allowed to do anything in cyberspace without supervision.

This differs in Western countries, where a significant percentage of kids have access to technology long before passing that ‘milestone’. Surfing online without parental supervision is common for as many as 6% of British, 8% of German and 10% of American under-fives whose parents took part in the survey.

On the other hand, after turning five, things gain momentum in the East, and in the end, Russian children are allowed to explore both the physical and virtual worlds much earlier than most of their western counterparts.

Key or a phone? Nations split on what to give their children first

Can you remember when you got your first set of house keys? The responsibility and pride you felt? According to ESET’s data, Russian children are the first to experience this. At 7 years and 11 months (7.9*) they are ahead of their German peers by 8 months (8.6).

The gap is even greater in comparison with American kids. In the US, children get their own house keys at an average age of 9 years and 5 months (9.4). The most wary are Brits, whose kids get keys only after they turn 10 years and 7 months (10.6).

Similar responsibility comes with mobile phones, as these open ‘doors’ to another risky reality – the virtual one. At least this seems to be the view held by American parents, who give children their first devices only shortly before their 10th birthday (9.7), just after Germans, at 9 years and 7 months (9.6).

Russians are at the opposite pole, giving kids their first mobiles at an average age of 7 years and 2 months (7.2), 8 months earlier than their house keys. In the UK this gap is even greater, with Brits granting their offspring house keys almost 10 months later (10.6) than their first phone (9.8). A majority of Brits would even be keen to see a minimum age restriction for these types of devices.

Kids start their digital lives before turning 11 years old

An overwhelming proportion of parents surveyed also admitted that their child had his or her first social network account before their 11th birthday. In this metric, Brits, Germans and Americans showed similar average results – 10 years 8 months (10.7), 10 years 7 months (10.6) and 10 years 5 months (10.4), respectively. Only Russians differed significantly, with an average as low as 8 years and 7 months (8.6).

This is interesting, as many popular networks have significantly higher official age restrictions – 13 for Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, 16 for WhatsApp and, without parents’ permission, as high as 18 for YouTube.

The most popular Russian social network service VKontakte ( only states that its users have to reach “the age acceptable in accordance with Russian legislation for accepting these Terms, and has the relevant powers”, effectively setting the age restriction at 18 years.

We should add that there are many social network platforms in all four countries that are specially designed for younger children. Therefore, we can only assume that the aforementioned rules of all the popular networks were broken by kids whose parents were surveyed.

Milder Russian rules

Another demonstration of the “milder rules” in Russia is the fact that kids are allowed to play outdoors without supervision at an average age of 7 years and 4 months (7.3). In comparison, American children can do so only after they are a year older (8.3), and British children at 8 years and 1 month (8.1). German kids were closer to Russians, playing outside without adult supervision at 7 years and 5 months (7.4).

The parents of all the surveyed nations seem to be aware of the risks lurking online, as they allow their young ones to explore virtual reality later than the sandpit in the playground.

The data collected suggests that surfing the web alone is common for Russian kids after they turn 8 years and 5 months (8.4). On the other hand, distrust is greatest amongst German parents, who won’t allow their offspring to browse independently before they turn 9 years and 9 months (9.8). For children in the UK and US, limits are lifted at around 9 years and 6 months (9.5) and 9 years and 5 months (9.4), respectively.

Our Internet survey was carried out in January 2016 and focused on the attitudes of a demographically representative sample of around 1,000 of the online population in each of four countries: the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany and Russia. The UK, US and German data was provided by Google Consumer Surveys, while Russian data was provided by Merku.

This topic will be addressed at the world’s largest expo for the mobile industry: Mobile World Congress 2016, beginning on February 22nd in Barcelona, Spain. During the event, ESET will be located in Hall 5, Booth B05. For more information about ESET at the Mobile World Congress, check our special page.

* Average age calculated as arithmetic mean = sum of the age value provided by the parents in the given question divided by the total number of those values. Calculated separately for each country.

Author: Ondrej Kubovič, EMEA Security Specialist

For those of you interested in how the percentages looked for the various questions, age groups and between the four countries polled, please see the breakdown in the tables below.

Q1: How old was your child when you allowed him/her to play at a playground without supervision?

Q1 Playground Unsupervised1 year234567891011121314

Q2: How old was your child when you first gave them keys to your home?

Q2 House Keys1 year234567891011121314

Q3: How old was your child when you allowed him/her to surf the web unsupervised?

Q3 Internet Unsupervised1 year234567891011121314

Q4: How old was your child when he/she first received a mobile phone?

Q4 First mobile phone567891011121314

Q5: How old was your child when he/she first opened an account on a social network?

Q5 First social network account1 year234567891011121314

Q6: How old was your child when you allowed them to install apps on their smart devices (smartphone, tablet) without supervision?

Q6 Apps Unsupervised1 year234567891011121314


Author , ESET

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