More than a third of children find it easier to be themselves online, study suggests

Joanna Whitehead
Nearly half (47 per cent) of eight to 17-year-olds surveyed said that they think it's important to "fit in" online: istock

More than a third of children say they find it easier to be themselves online than offline, according to a new survey.

Thirty-eight per cent said they see the internet as a safe space to explore and grow, rising to 54 per cent for young people with disabilities.

Many expressed concerns about the behaviour of other users and the need to create additional accounts to protect themselves, however.

Nearly half (47 per cent) of eight to 17-year-olds surveyed said that they think it’s important to “fit in” online, while 61 per cent believe the internet puts pressure on people to appear perfect.

The study, which coincides with Safer Internet Day – an annual observance which aims to raise awareness of emerging online issues – saw 2,001 young people polled by the UK Safer Internet Centre.

Online platforms face growing pressure to protect vulnerable people online.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Media and Young People’s Mental Health has said that although social media has the potential to positively impact young people’s lives, negative effects include isolating young people suffering from mental ill health, exposing them to online bullying and affecting self-esteem and body image.

This is particularly acute for girls and young women.

A Young Persons' Charter is to be presented to almost 40 MPs and government officials in Westminster on Tuesday.

It includes a list of requests from young people about making the internet a more inclusive place, such as increasing online protection and industry accountability.

One in seven of the young people polled said it was easy for individuals to be abusive online, leading 62 per cent to be cautious about what they share.

Despite this, almost half (49 per cent) believe the internet contributes to their identity and helps them feel less alone.

Will Gardner, director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, said while the internet holds many positive experiences for children, it was vital to acknowledge “the pressures, challenges and limits” it can bring.

“It is so important for all of us - adults, businesses, and government - to support young people to harness the internet for good and make it a place where everyone is free to be themselves,” he said.

Home secretary Priti Patel said: “Used safely, the internet can play an important role in young people's development.

”But social media companies must be held accountable for protecting their users from harms on their platforms, including grooming, hate crime, and terrorist content,” she said.

“That is exactly why we are working on legislation to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.

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