An Edelman survey reveals most young Australians use social networking sites to create new identities through lies and manipulation.
According to a new survey more than half of Australian teenagers (56 per cent) lie about themselves when they are online, with most teens faking their age, fabricating their looks and feeling compelled to lie about the number of friends they have on their social networking profiles.
Over half of Australian teens (57.5 per cent) also admit to finding it easier to make friends online, where they don't feel negatively judged by appearance and the pressure of face to face social contact .Over 40 per cent of teenagers admit to feeling more confident about themselves in cyber space.
The research commissioned by new Clearasil online community beyourselfforreal.com reached out to over 1,000 13-19 year old Australians to gauge the levels of teen confidence online and how this impacts their behaviour in the real world.
Adolescent psychologist and cyber expert Dr Michael Carr-Gregg explained that while the net is accepted as the most common social vehicle for teenagers, it's the virtual nature of communication, lack of face to face feedback and twenty-four-seven access that makes it irresistible.
He says that teenagers feel comfortable with the anonymity that the internet offers and often use the net to experiment with different identities.
“An important part of being a teenager is trying to figure out who you are,” he says.
“Teens are trying on one face after another to find one that fits, and the internet allows them to do this and be virtual chameleons.”
Sixteen year old, Madi Busch, feels that that the internet provides teenagers with a way to make friends without the fear of rejection or ridicule.
“It's a lot easier to be confident online where you don‟t need to worry about your weight or your skin or what clothes you‟re wearing like you do in the real world, because you know people won't be judging you on how you look,” says the teen.
But she thinks that some teens can go too far, and warns that reality will inevitably bite.
“I've known people to Photoshop or “air brush” a picture on their online profile to impress someone,” says Madi. “But it just makes you wonder why they do it because if they ever meet up with that person in real life they're going to look completely different!”
“I think the best thing to do is be confident and go out and meet people in the real world so that you definitely know that they are who they say they are,” she said.
This level of dishonesty may be alarming for parents and teachers when concern about teens escaping into a virtual world is top of mind. However, Dr Michael Carr Gregg believes that access to more information and resources online can actually help young people equip themselves for life and friendships in the real world.
“The stresses of today's society make people time poor, teens are reliant on one another for information and advice, increasing the need for friendship groups online and offline,” he said. “We are seeing the rise of the 'second family'”.
Interestingly, the research also revealed that for some teens the reason for changing personal details was to protect their identity. Dr Carr-Gregg explained that the results show that more and more teenagers are actually being 'cyber smart' and developing skills, knowledge and strategies to stay safe online.
Cyber bullying was also cited as an issue, with one in five of those questioned admitting to having been a victim, an experience that can have serious impact on teen wellbeing in the real world. Although the results reveal much lower levels of cyber bullying in Australia compared to the UK and US, Dr Carr-Gregg maintained that cyber-bullying is still a growing concern.
“The internet makes bullies out of teens who would not participate in that kind of behaviour in the real world,” he said.
“The face to face element isn‟t there, and it feels like a safe environment for confrontation, as cyber bullies don‟t see the real impact that they‟re having and can be far harsher than they normally would be.”
Further results from the beyourselfforreal.com survey also revealed that while today‟s teens are facing unchartered issues on the net they are still confronting traditional troubles, 42 per cent of those questioned revealed school performance and the future to be of major concern.Beyourselfforreal.com is continuing the debate and inviting young people from all walks of life to jump online to have their say about the real issues both online and off, and to harness the confidence they show online to confront the challenges they face in the real world.