updated 7/8/2009 2:06:27 PM ET 2009-07-08T18:06:27

Young kids are getting online at a faster rate than their parents and older siblings.

A new study from Nielsen Online found that nearly 16 million U.S. children ages 2 to 11 were online in May. They made up about 9.5 percent of Internet users.

The youngest of the set — 2, 3, and 4-year-olds — probably aren't yet updating their Twitter accounts with 140-character messages, or posting quiz results to Facebook. Rather, they are sitting in a parent's lap in front of a computer, being exposed to the Internet that way, said Peter Grunwald, president of Grunwald Associates LLC, which specializes in researching kids and technology.

In the past five years, Nielsen said, the number of kids online has grown by 18 percent, compared with just a 10 percent growth among all Internet users. And this growth comes as the total number of U.S. kids under 14 is declining.

In all, the time children spend online grew 63 percent in the past five years, from nearly 7 hours in May 2004 to more than 11 hours online this past May.

Nielsen also found that boys spent 7 percent more time online than girls, but girls viewed 9 percent more Web pages than boys did in May 2009. Grunwald said kids are also beginning to produce their own content rather than use the Web as a passive viewer.

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