ONE in three kids in the UK feel pressure to change their body shape because of harmful content online, a worrying new report reveals.
An alarming new trend has emerged among children – particularly boys – aspiring to have muscular bodies and develop six packs, fuelled by the images they see and want to copy.
More kids are being exposed to potentially harmful online content, particularly encouraging them to bulk up their bodies, says Youthworks in partnership with Internet Matters.
Their recent cyber survey quizzed nearly 15,000 children aged 11-17 attending 82 schools across the UK.
Nearly a third of boys (29 per cent) said they had been exposed to content encouraging them to build their bodies up – with many urged to buy substances that might not be safe.
The most likely group to be viewing such content was 13-year-old boys.
Those who “often” viewed online information encouraging them to bulk up their bodies had lower self-respect than those who never saw this type of content, the report found.
They were also less likely to say ‘I feel happy with myself’: 69 per cent in contrast to 85 per cent of those who never look at this kind of material.
One in four (25 per cent) young people said they had seen pro-suicide content – up from 11 per cent in 2015.
PRESSURE TO ‘BE THIN’
Almost one in three (28 per cent) girls visited sites or saw messages that “pressure me to be too thin”.
Meanwhile, one in eight children (13 per cent) had viewed content about self-harm.
Over a quarter (27 per cent) of kids said their online life influenced how they tried to look, while more than half said they were more confident behind a screen.
And 21 per cent admitted their online life made them always or sometimes “unhappy about how I look”.
Yet the report, “In Their Own Words – The Digital Lives of Schoolchildren”, also highlighted positive experiences.
More than a third said they feel good because of their time spent online, while 52 per cent praised their online life for helping them find and talk to people like them most or some of the time.
More than eight out of ten said their online life helped them relax after school.
However, the research found that too few children were following online safety advice taught in school or from their parents, especially as they got older.
While 11-year olds were the most likely age group to follow online safety advice, by the age of 15, when risks are higher, only 46 per cent always followed the advice.
And although two-thirds of teens said they would turn to their parent or carer if they had a problem online, 50 per cent dismissed their parents for failing to “understand enough about online issues”.
Adrienne Katz of Youthworks, who co-authored the report with Aiman El Asam of London’s Kingston University, said: “The big message from this report is that harmful content has overtaken cyberbullying as a major threat to young people.
“Messages, comments, adverts and ideal bodies seen online can combine to make teenagers obsess about their bodies.
“It is all too easy to buy products promising perfection.”
Katz added: “Given how much they love and benefit from the online world, we owe it to young people to help make it a safer experience.
“Outdated online safety advice is not going to work in this new decade and suicide content should be rapidly addressed.”
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Carolyn Bunting, CEO of Internet Matters, said: “Harmful content has become one of our biggest concerns in the online space, with numbers of children viewing this material increasing over the last four years.
“With too few children following online safety advice they’ve been taught in school or from their parents, especially as they get older, a new dialogue is needed for children in their mid-teens so we can engage them more with online safety.
“No parent wants their child to be making life changing decisions having been exposed to this content, so it’s vital parents get involved with their children’s digital lives to understand what they are seeing and provide support where needed.”