UK kids aged six to nine years old spend an average of 4.2 hours per week using social networks, says AVG.

According to the security firm's Digital Playground survey, nearly half (47 percent) of this age group talk to their friends online but 20 percent have admitted to being bullied online. However, children in Spain were most at risk from cyberbullying with a quarter of kids saying they'd had an aggressive online experience.

Furthermore 22 of six to nine year olds use email, and 13 percent belong to Facebook despite being below the minimum age limit of 13. Just 56 percent of parents said they had parental controls software in place, while a third said there were no parental control activated and 11 percent were unsure.

"The data in the latest wave of our research is compelling. We must start talking to our children about online safety before we hand them an internet-enabled device," said JR Smith, CEO of AVG Technologies, Inc.

Smith said most parents are likely to have handed their child a mobile phone or internet-enabled device, with the only hint of concern being for the device itself.

"We need to approach our children's first exposures to technology like we do with any other activity having associated risks, and instill a culture of safety and awareness," he said

"We wouldn't teach our children to ride a bike without a helmet or ride in a car without a seat belt. Likewise parents need to appropriate tools for teaching young children about the risks of the internet and to put them on a path that will promote a lifetime of good practices."

As a result, AVG is now offering its Family Safety parental controls software for free, although there is a 95p donation to Red Cross.

The software allows parents to create profiles for each child, which can be adjusted as the child gets older and as their digital behaviour and habits change. As well as blocking inappropriate content, such as pornographic sites, the software lets uses prevent access to over 80 different social networks including Facebook, MySpace and Bebo.

"By making our Family Safety protection free, AVG is making an important tool available to parents to help them monitor and control what their children are exposed to online," said Smith

"We recognise that it's inevitable that children explore the internet, so we want to help parents provide their children the freedom to do so within boundaries which they can control."

The security firm has also unveiled a digital book written by AVGs' Policy Officer, Siobhan MacDermott, in a bid to teach preschool children about the dangers lurking online. Little Bird's Internet Security Adventure is available to download for free now.