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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 October, 2003, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Children fuel internet explosion
Girl on the internet
Under-12s are the faster growing group online
Children are leading the way when it comes to venturing into cyberspace, surfing the net for music and games.

The number of children online in Europe has jumped by a third in a year, analysts Nielsen/NetRatings have found.

There are now just over 13 million teens regularly using the internet, with the UK having more children online than any other European country.

The survey has raised concerns among children's charities, worried about paedophiles preying on teens online.

Broadband access

A year ago around 10 million boys and girls in Europe were using the web, e-mail and instant messaging.

But over the past 12 months, that number has grown to 13.1 million according to the Nielsen/NetRatings survey of eight European countries.

Chatroom screengrab
Concern over paedophiles using chatrooms
"What we're seeing now is families using the internet more," said Nielsen/NetRatings analyst Tom Ewing.

"It's likely that this is linked with the growth of broadband access. Perhaps when they're not paying for access by the minute, parents are likely to let children use and explore the web more."

The most dramatic increase has come in the UK. Some 4.5 million of under-18s regularly log on to websites, an increase of more than 50% in a year.

This compares with three million children in Germany and 1.5 million in France, the two nearest rivals.

But it is the "tweenagers" - children under 12 - that are flocking to the net in ever increasing numbers.

Popular sites

"The internet can be a great tool for educational purposes and many children find it fun to use," said Chris Atkinson, policy advisor for National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

"However, parents should continue to monitor their children's activities and the amount of time they spend on the internet, especially if they are using chatrooms."

Last week Microsoft said it would shut down its free and unsupervised chatrooms, citing concerns about child safety.

According to the Nielsen/NetRatings survey, many children are visiting the same sites adults do.

One of the most popular is the virtual pet site, neopets.com. But the search engine Google.com, the research site About.com, and the file-sharing network Kazaa are also big with teens.

The findings from the survey covering Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and the Netherlands

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