ALMOST one-third of six-year- olds and well over half of all children over 13 are allowed to surf online with absolutely no parental supervision, a survey has revealed.
In the case of children aged 16 or older, some 73pc are permitted to spend hours online with no intervention from mum or dad.
This is despite the fact that studies show many children will accept any friend request they receive on Facebook and almost half of them have friends on the social network site whom they have never met in real life.
The survey involved over 1,000 people across Ireland and was aimed at finding out the level of online supervision of those under the age of 18.
The results of the survey, compiled earlier this year, were released by IT security company ESET in the wake of the suicides of two teenage girls who took their own lives after being bullied online.
Cybercrime analyst Urban Schrott said parents needed to stop putting their heads in the sand and realise that social networking is not about computers, it is about the people their children are associating with.
"Parents tend to say 'I don't know much about computers' but they should have the same attitude to online communication as they do in real life. They don't want their kids in the wrong part of town or hanging about with the wrong people. Why shouldn't the same rules apply online?
"We wanted to remind people of the dangers because of these tragic events. No one thought it would come to this," he said.
Mr Schrott said ESET had already been involved in counter-bullying initiatives in the US but these had not yet been replicated in Ireland. "In Europe, we tend to believe we are immune to these radical happenings," he said.
Mr Schrott said it was a parent's job to help younger children develop their online life skills.
He urged parents to know and discuss the dangers with younger children. Learning about safety issues could be a family project, he suggested.
"Just because it isn't physical, bullying and abuse online is just as traumatic and cruel as elsewhere and should be detected early, blocked in time and the victim treated as seriously as they would be in the case of any other abuse," he said.
Some 49pc of parents surveyed admitted they have never reviewed the privacy settings on social networks.