Previous thinking about the best way to keep children safe online may be wrong, research from the Oxford Internet Institute and Parent Zone suggests.
Rather than restricting or monitoring internet use, parents should let their children discover the net, both good and bad, themselves, the report says.
UK children are among the most monitored in Europe, with most of the big ISPs offering parental controls.
But this is no replacement for good parenting, the report concludes.
Researchers surveyed more than 2,000 children aged 14 to 17 across the UK.
Their report came to three main conclusions:
- Children who have positive offline relationships with their parents are more likely to navigate the web in a sensible way
- Supportive and enabling parenting has a more positive impact than restricting or monitoring internet use
- Teenagers left to self-regulate their internet and social media use are more likely to teach themselves new skills online and maintain positive online relationships
Dr Andrew Przbylski, research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute and lead author of the report, said: "Our findings indicate that good parenting, which allows children to still take risks and develop coping strategies, is integral to whether young people are able to make the most of the opportunities of the online world."
"It is just like the offline world," agreed Vicki Shotbolt, founder of The Parent Zone.
"Parents have to agree age-appropriate boundaries. We wouldn't let a child of four play on their own in the park, and it is entirely reasonable if you have a very young child to make a decision to filter some content," she added.
But older children should be allowed to "take risks".
The research was unveiled at the inaugural Digital Families conference in London, which will look at the effect of the internet on family life.
Every year regulator Ofcom releases a report looking at children's use of digital services. Its most recent, released in October, surveyed 1,600 children aged five to 15.
Of those, 71% had access to a tablet computer at home and 88% accessed the internet via a PC or laptop.
Among the 12- to 15-year-olds interviewed by Ofcom:
- The average time spent online was more than 17 hours a week
- Nearly a third of the girls had been bullied online
- 22% of the boys had been bullied online
- 33% about someone they knew being spread online or sent via text message
- 14% had experienced embarrassing pictures of someone they knew being shared
Of the parents interviewed by Ofcom, 32% used some content filters - either from their ISP or from software vendors such as Net Nanny.
Of the parents of eight- to 11-year-olds, 89% had rules or restrictions for internet use. For parents of 12- to 15-year-olds, this proportion dropped to 72%.