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  • Games, apps and social media offer both children and adults freedom to present and express themselves in different ways online.
  • A child may present themselves differently on different online services. For example, on some games and apps they may represent themselves with an avatar or character. This avatar may resemble them physically, or may represent aspects of their personality or interests. Some children like to change their avatar regularly to explore different appearances and identities.
  • Children around ages 7-11 will often define their online identity by the types of activities they like to do online. Some children may define their online identity by the group they are part of online – they may behave one way in a small group of close friends but behave very differently when using a game/app where they interact with lots of other users.
  • Some children may use social media or games to explore aspects of their own identity or may adopt different personas. For example, some games require players to role-play their character. Some children may wish to explore what it is like to be a different gender or age, or to experiment with behaviour that is different to their offline behaviour. Others may want to discover how it feels to be anonymous online, where users know nothing about them other than what they choose to do/say.
  • An online identity can sometimes make it easier for children to communicate or express themselves, particularly if they find communicating offline difficult. For example, children who are shy in social situations offline might be more confident online when they can assume a different persona. Children with learning needs or disabilities who find offline social situations challenging may find that adopting a different online persona leads to other users communicating with them more freely or without prejudice.
  • It is important to be aware that some children may feel under pressure from their peers or society to adopt a particular persona or online identity.
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  • Talk to your students about avatars – do they use them? If so, do these resemble them in some way, or do they like to experiment with how they appear? Do they have a favourite avatar? With their permission, you could ask students to take a screenshot of their favourite avatar and explain how it represents them.
  • Encourage your students to compare their offline and online identity – are they different or the same? What advantages are there in assuming a different identity online?
  • Remind your students that other users can also assume different online identities – people may not always be who they appear to be or say they are online.
  • Be supportive rather than judgmental about the identity (or identities) your students choose to use online – they may be using these to understand their own identity better, or they may have questions about aspects of identity. You may wish to explore this further as part of personal, social and health education.