Gaming addiction, late nights and FOMO: How is the internet affecting girls?

A female character is sitting with a mobile phone in the workplace.  Bullying and humiliation on social media.  The girl gets negative comments on the Internet.  Cyberbullying concept.  Trendy flat vector illustration

A new report has provided insight into both positive and negative experiences of children (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

From “fear of missing out” to “obsessions” with gaming, a new report has highlighted the many issues kids still face in the internet age.

Being online has a significant impact on young people’s lives, playing a major role in shaping their behavior and experiences.

Charity Internet Matters has now released the results of a special report that tracked the well-being of children in the digital world.

Negative effects on social well-being were found to be particularly felt by girls aged 9-10.

The number of people surveyed who felt “fear of missing out” – more commonly known as FOMO – has doubled since last year.

The results of the report show that 45% of this age group say they stay up late using digital devices (up from 26% last year) and 49% say they regularly watch shows or play computer games, even though they don’t enjoy it (compared to 34% last year).

When it comes to body image and self-esteem, one in 10 people also say that being online makes them worry about their shape or size, and 13% say it makes other people jealous.

This is a situation many families identify with.

Rebecca and Jonathan Fisher live in Norfolk with their children Elsa, 8, Cleo, 5, and Brody, 3.

Rebecca lives in Norfolk with her children Elsa, 8, Cleo, 5, and Brody, 3. (Image: Internet Matters)

Rebecca lives in Norfolk with her children Elsa, 8, Cleo, 5, and Brody, 3. (Image: Internet Matters)

The couple say their eldest daughter is concerned about feeling left out online and how too much screen time has affected her sleep and well-being.

Rebecca said: “All the kids at Elsa’s age at school are connected online, mostly through gaming platforms, so I feel like I have to let her join or she would be weird otherwise.

“Many of her peers push their parents to buy extra features and add-ons for their games, which creates an even greater sense of being left out for those who don’t have them.

“It’s really hard because I don’t want her to fall behind socially, but I also don’t want it to take over her life. We’ve already spent around £50 on her games and I don’t want that to become the norm.

She added: “Elsa has seen us on our phones in bed since she was a baby, so explaining why she shouldn’t do it herself is a challenge.”

Rebecca has found that many other parents have the same issues with their children, but says open conversations can help.

With the children now back in full-time school, Internet Matters has found that their use of technology appears to have been shifted to later in the evening, which in turn affects their sleep.

Compared to the positive improvements noted in the report – titled Children’s Digital Wellbeing Index – the boys’ emotional well-being was the most significant.

Of this group, over 50% fewer say they worry about saying the wrong thing online in 2023 (15% compared to 34% last year) and two-thirds fewer say they worry about what people say think about them online (7% vs. 21% last year).

This indicates that boys of this age are more confident in their online interactions year after year and worry less about how they are perceived by others.

Young girls struggle with 'fear of missing out' (Image: Jonathan Hordle/Shutterstock)

Young girls struggle with ‘fear of missing out’ (Image: Jonathan Hordle/Shutterstock)

The previous 2022 Index also showed how vulnerable young people experience more of the negative effects of being online.

This includes children with special educational needs, physical disabilities and mental health issues.

Child psychologist and internet affairs ambassador Dr Linda Papadopoulos says parents should be more aware of the psychological impact of the digital world on their children.

She said: “This index once again highlights the importance of parents supporting their children as they navigate the digital world.

“Technology is becoming a larger and larger part of family life and there is no sign of that changing, but parents, carers and professionals supporting young people admit they are struggling to keep up.

“Additional support is needed to facilitate open and honest conversations with children to improve their online well-being.”

In households where children and parents say they often talk to each other about things that are important to them, children experience more positive and less negative effects on their well-being, according to the index.

This again highlights the positive role that meaningful conversations have for children in relation to their digital lives.

Carolyn Bunting, CEO of Internet Matters, said: “The online world is changing rapidly and now more than ever it is critical to understand the impact of technology on children’s well-being and assess both the positive and negative aspects of how they use and interact with the online world.

“What parents do matters, so giving them the skills, knowledge and support they need must be a clear priority.

“These findings will continue to provide valuable insights that will help us provide the most up-to-date and effective advice for parents and carers to help them best deal with their children and support them to achieve positive outcomes in their online lives.”

For more information on the Internet Matters “Children’s Wellbeing in a Digital World Index” and information on how to keep children safe online, as well as step-by-step guides, visit

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