By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website
More than a quarter of eight to 11-year-olds in the UK have a profile on a social network, research shows.
Most sites, such as Bebo, MySpace and Facebook, set a minimum age of between 13 and 14 to create a profile but none actively enforce the age requirement.
Almost half of all eight to 17-year-olds online have a profile, regulator Ofcom found in a survey of 5,000 adults and over 3,000 children.
Ofcom says parents need to learn more about their children's online lives.
The Ofcom report looks into the impact of social networks on people's lives in the UK as part of a wider media literacy campaign and surveyed 5,000 adults and more than 3,000 children.
"Social networks are clearly a very important part of people's lives and are having an impact on how people live their lives," said James Thickett, director of market research at Ofcom.
He added: "Children's lives are very different from what they were 20 years ago. Social networks are a way of creating a social bond."
The Home Office has been working with social networking firms and is expected to publish a set of guidelines for the sites around best practice, security and privacy on Friday.
The report is expected to recommend that profiles created by children are set to private by default, or are only viewable by friends nominated by the user.
The three leading social networks, MySpace, Bebo and Facebook, all say they remove profiles of users that are found to be too young on their sites.
But at present no technology is used to actively verify the age of users.
The Home Office guidelines are set to encourage social networking sites to investigate age verification technologies and to give better signposting to users about privacy settings, and warnings about the implications of posting personal details.
A spokesman for MySpace said the firm "proactively ensures that profiles of 14 and 15-year-olds are automatically made private so that users are protected from adults they don't already know in the offline world".
The company said in the future all of its users under 18 would have profiles set automatically to private.
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