Children are going online and accessing social media platforms even before they reach primary school age, a study has found.
The Media Development Authority (MDA) conducted face-to-face surveys with 1,200 Singaporeans and permanent residents aged 14 and below last year to study their media consumption habits.
The study found that YouTube was the most commonly used social media platform for children aged six and below, suggesting that parents may be the ones helping their tots go online. The results, which were released last month, found that about 77 per cent of respondents have gone online, while 51 per cent have used social media.
While about 60 per cent of the respondents said they started using social media between ages seven and 10, 13 per cent had started earlier at the age of six or younger.
The top three most popular social media platforms were Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.
The findings were split into three age groups - zero to six, seven to 10, and 11 to 14. Parents answered the questionnaire on behalf of children in the first group.
Customer service officer Kate Tan, 27, who has a son, two, and daughter, four, said she started to use an iPhone with her children when they were about a year old.
"I check out recipes on YouTube sometimes, and I show my children what I am looking at. But they are allowed to use the iPhone only when I'm around," she said.
Her children sometimes listen to songs and stories on the device too, but only in her presence. Still, she has noticed them getting agitated and angry when she stops or limits their smartphone usage. "I am definitely worried that they will be exposed to unsavoury content when they start to go online on their own in primary school," she said.
Dr Jiow Hee Jhee, associate consultant at cyber wellness firm Kingmaker Consultancy, said parents sometimes use smart devices as babysitting tools. "But it may be difficult for parents to monitor children's online behaviour, especially when the devices are small and portable."
Mr Chong Ee Jay, manager at Touch Cyber Wellness, said that with platforms such as YouTube, "a parent may give the child a device to watch a Barney video, but the child may end up linking to a trailer for the 50 Shades Of Grey movie".
Mr Chong, who also sits on the Media Literacy Council, said that from his experience, parents find it harder to control their children's online usage when they reach 11 or 12. It is crucial that schools play a part in educating pupils on cyber wellness, and guide parents on how to manage their children's Internet habits.
In one of its latest cyber education efforts, the Media Literacy Council partnered the Science Centre Singapore to revamp the 11-year-old I'm a Young IT Whiz Card given to primary school pupils, who then complete a number of IT-related tasks to earn a badge.
The refreshed card was launched in April and is expected to reach 100 primary schools this year.
Its previous edition focused more on IT skills and literacy, while the new version includes more aspects of online interaction, such as how one deals with online trolls.
Meridian Primary in Pasir Ris has started using the new card and said it has more relevance to pupils.
"The pupils now are very IT savvy and exposed to new media a lot. It is important to teach them the right values on using the Internet in a safe and responsible way," said the school's science head, Mr Tay Koon Guan. "They are still young and could easily be misguided."
MDA said it intends to conduct the study annually to keep up with the changing media consumption habits of children here.
This article was first published on MONTH DAY, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.