Cyber charity warns that discussions about online safety are 'coming too late' from parents and schools
The majority of eight and nine year olds now own at least one smart electronic device, giving them access to the online world and potential contact with strangers.
Preliminary findings of a new survey show commonplace ownership of smartphones, tablets or gaming consoles among children in primary school.
CyberSafe Ireland said it was now engaging with third-class pupils more as they increasingly report ownership of internet-enabled devices.
However, writing in the Irish Independent today, the charity's chief executive Alex Cooney warns parents are often not adequately prepared.
"We are not addressing online safety with our children either at home or in schools early enough. In some schools we visit, we find that by sixth class these discussions are almost coming too late," she said.
As the ownership figures are likely to grow even more over Christmas, it has sparked a warning to parents that they must take responsibility for their child's online safety if Santa delivers an electronic mobile device.
Ownership of "smart" electronic devices is already common by the time children are in third class, when the typical age of pupils is eight or nine.
Overall, 87pc of these pupils owned at least one smart device, according to findings by CyberSafe Ireland, the children's online safety charity.
As many as 54pc have their own tablet, 26pc have a smartphone and 17pc have an iPod touch, which shares most of the features of a smartphone,
About one in three (34pc) said they owned a gaming console, while 19pc had a laptop and 3pc a desktop computer.
Only 13pc said they did not own any type of smart device, and the figures suggest some children own more than one.
The questions were framed to distinguish between the child's ownership of a device and use of another device in the home.
Not surprisingly, ownership rates rise as children grow older, with 58pc of sixth-class pupils owning a smartphone, 64pc a tablet, 20pc an iPod Touch and 61pc a gaming console, according to the survey
The findings emerged from surveys conducted since September among primary pupils in urban and rural schools in the Leinster area.
Overall, 1,500 eight to 13 year olds, from third to sixth class, were surveyed by CyberSafe Ireland for the new study.
The charity has been running an education programme in schools since 2016. Pupils are surveyed anonymously in advance of a session.
Since September, for the first time CyberSafe Ireland has been engaging with third-class pupils, allowing the organisation to gather a more robust picture of ownership rates among eight and nine year olds.
Most of the schools surveyed were in and around Dublin, so, while the data is not nationally representative, it is indicative of a trend.
Research by CyberSafe Ireland earlier this year found 18pc of eight to 13 year olds were talking to strangers online every day, a three-fold increase on the previous year.
It also showed 15pc of children had never spoken to their parents about online safety, and a further 15pc had not discussed the issue for over a year.
Ms Cooney said many children were expecting to get a smart device for Christmas and, if so, it was up to parents to talk more to them about online safety issues.
She said that as soon as a child showed an interest in getting a phone or a tablet, parents should talk to them about what is and isn't OK to do online, in an age appropriate manner.
Parents should also check out what apps and games their child is using and agree rules.