Child using iPad
A quarter of British children own a tablet before their eighth birthday, survey finds. Reuters

More than a quarter of British children under eight years old own a tablet computer, as parents spend an average of £460 on gadgets for their children in 2013.

Research into the technological lives of young children also found that 29% of toddlers could use a smartphone or tablet by the age of three, while more one-in-ten could operate the devices before their second birthday.

Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at uSwitch, said today's children know their way around the newest technology "before they're out of nappies," adding that technology can "make lessons, homework and bedtime stories both fun and interactive, so it's little wonder that more British parents are caving in to demands from their tech-savvy children."

Conducted by comparison website uSwitch, the survey was answered by 1,740 UK adults in December 2013, and when extrapolated to include the most recent population statistics reveal 3.5 million under-eights own a tablet, such as the iPad, Samsung's Galaxy range, and the budget Tesco Hudl.

Young children "addicted" to tablets and smartphones

Such widespread ownership of tablets - and a huge number of applications and games aimed at young users - has lead to children becoming "addicted" to their gadgets.

Parents really do need to keep tabs on what their children get up to online.
- Telecoms expert Ernest Doku

Nearly a fifth of parents asked said they believed their under-16s are addicted to smartphones and tablets, while more than a quarter said their children would "feel lost" without them.

Becoming attached to gadgets isn't just a social problem, but also a financial one, as 12% of parents asked said their children had run up unexpected bills on their tablets or smartphones through in-app purchases, some of which can cost as much as £70.

As a result, 71% of parents have imposed limits on how many hours their children can use gadgets like smartphones and tablets each day.

Doku warns: "Parents really do need to keep tabs on what their children get up to online, and lay out some ground rules, or risk having to cover the cost of bills racked up by in-app purchases - particularly in seemingly 'free-to-play' games."

Of the £5.6 billion estimated to be spent on gadgets for the under-16s in 2013, £3.2bn was spent over the Christmas shopping period alone.

Of all technology products, children under 16 are most likely to own a game console, according to uSwitch, with 91% of parents saying they have bought at least one for their child.

Next on the list was the basic mobile phone, with smartphones appearing much lower, in 10th position.

A third of parents expect to spend more on technology products for their children in 2014 than they did last year.