Youngsters 'prefer virtual lives to the real world'

According to the study, children are often happier with their online lives than they are with reality -- in fact, they say they can be exactly who they want to be, and as soon as something is no longer fun, they can hit the quit button.

The study, based on a survey, also shows that despite concerns about online safety, one in eight young people is in contact with strangers when on the web and often lies about their appearance, age and background.

Researchers for children's charity Kidscape assessed the online activities of 2,300 11- to 18-year-olds from across Britain and found 45 per cent said they were sometimes happier online than in their real lives, the 'Daily Mail' reported.

The survey report, 'Virtual Lives: It is more than a game, it is your life', lays bare the attitudes of children today to the internet and includes revealing insights into how they feel when they are on the web.

One teenager told researchers: "It's easier to be who you want to be, because nobody knows you and if you don't like the situation you can just exit and it is over."

Another said: "You can say anything online. You can talk to people that you don't normally speak to and you can edit your pictures so you look better. It is as if you are a completely different person."

Around 47 per cent of children said they behaved differently online than they did in their normal lives with many claiming it made them feel more powerful and confident.

Psychotherapist Peter Bradley, who is also deputy director of Kidscape, said that the desire for so many to adopt a different identity online was a cause for concern because the children were being divorced from reality.

He added: "These findings suggest that children see cyberspace as detachable from the real world and a place where they explore parts of their behaviour and personality that they possibly would not show in real life.

"We can't allow cyberworlds to be happier places than our real communities, otherwise we are creating a generation of young people not functioning adequately in our society."

The report found that of those who spoke to strangers online 60 per cent did not tell the truth about their age, and 40 per cent were not honest about personal relationships. Some 10 per cent said they changed aspects of their appearance and their personality for their online activity.

"We were alarmed by the number of risks being taken by teenagers whilst online. Safe online behaviour is taught in schools, but teenagers seem to be unable to relate the risks to themselves.

"This research should challenge teenagers, parents and professionals to do their best to make internet safety guidelines meaningful," Bradley said.

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