Ofcom says children aged 5 to 11 are using social media platforms such as TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram despite 13 age limit
Children as young as five are using social media apps designed for youngsters twice their age.
An annual report into how adults and children in the UK use media such as television and the internet, warns of an emerging 'TikTot' generation of small children who are using social media platforms designed for teenagers and adults.
The study by media watchdog Ofcom has revealed that despite being under the minimum age to use social media sites, which is 13 for most platforms, many parents have allowed their young offspring to have social media profiles albeit these accounts may be private or 'locked-down'.
A third of the parents researchers spoke to with children aged five to seven, and two thirds of parents with children aged eight to 11, said their children regularly used sites that came with a higher age restriction - with some users admitting to using fake dates of birth in order to get around the age limits.
Older children, says Ofcom, were most likely to have an Instagram profile while children under the age of 11 were more likely to be on TikTok and YouTube.
Social media platforms, including Instagram and TikTok, have a number of age verification processes while any accounts or content belonging to those appearing to be under age can be removed by company moderators.
But alongside accounts that parents are aware their children own, are a growing number of secret profiles says Ofcom, that youngsters are using to 'hide aspects of their online lives'.
The report says two thirds of 8 to 11 year-olds had multiple accounts or profiles with almost half admitting to have an account specifically for their family to see.
The recently published Online Safety Bill will order sites carrying material not suitable for children to carry out strict age checks on the users trying to access their content.
But today's report suggests that some children are already able to work around technology to use websites they know their parents wouldn't allow.
Ofcom researchers raised concerns about the small numbers of children who admitted to using incognito modes or deleting their browsing history to evade safety checks by parents or carers, with one in 20 saying they also circumvented parental controls in their home so that they could use certain apps or visit certain sites they were otherwise not permitted to use.
The report concludes: "Parents play an active role in monitoring and mediating their children’s online lives, but this tails off with age. Although parents are broadly confident that they know enough to keep their child safe, a significant minority of parents simply don’t know what to feel about the internet – for example, whether the risks of their child using it outweigh the benefits.
"The Online Safety Bill will place new duties of care for users on tech firms, which Ofcom will enforce. When we regulate online safety, we will require companies to assess risk with the user’s perspective in mind and explain what they are doing to protect children from harm. We will hold companies to account on how they ensure a safe experience for children."