Too much too young or too little too late?

Kim Duthie (left) and friend earlier this year.
Kim Duthie (left) and friend earlier this year.

WHEN Australian teenagers tell their parents that everyone else is allowed to go to the shopping centre alone or stay up late, their parents will finally have a guide to what other families are really saying.

The average age at which teenagers are allowed to make their own decisions is tabled in a survey released today by the federally funded parenting advice website Raising Children.

Most children can choose their own clothes by the time they are 12½, but the average age for lifting a teenager's curfew is 17½ - six months off legal adulthood.

While it's not possible to tell parents exactly what age to allow teenagers to make decisions, the website's content director, parenting expert Warren Cann, hopes the survey gives parents a point of comparison. ''If you find yourself well below or above the norms, you might want to think why,'' he says.

The survey asked parents what they believed was the right age for children to be allowed to make decisions. Mr Cann believes parents may yield to child pressure earlier. ''Kids tend to think they're ready two years before their parents want them to be,'' he says. The survey suggests the average age for getting a mobile phone is 14, but telecommunications research says teenagers typically get their first mobile at 13.

The survey of 360 parents found a strong resistance to allowing younger teenagers open access to websites and social media. The average age of allowing them open access is 15½. On average, parents don't want their children on Facebook or other social media before 14½, even though Facebook allows them to register from 13, and many children as young as eight have active pages.

Primary school teacher and mother of three Simone Traynor allowed her oldest son, Jacob, now 17, to use Facebook from 14. He is allowed to use it even when doing his homework, as long as he maintains good marks in VCE. Ms Traynor's 15-year-old son is now allowed to log on but she will not allow her 12-year-old daughter Sonja to register for an account.

Ms Traynor said: ''Brandon is not that interested. Sonja's got plenty of real-life social activity, and it seems more vulnerable [for her]: girls can be nasty with these things.''

Mother of two Kristin has allowed her daughter, now 16, on Facebook since she was 12, but polices her children's internet time through a net nanny, by reading their internet histories and by setting time limits. ''She has to spend an hour off all screens before bed - no phone, iPod, iPad, laptop, nothing. She can read a book or come and have a conversation.''

The survey was commissioned to mark the launch of the Raising Children's teenage section, that was built to respond to a growing demand for advice on coping with adolescents.