30 September 2018
Posted by HMC Press Office
  • Savvy teens are creating multiple private accounts
  • 40% of young users polled have at least two profiles on the same platform
  • Over half of those admit that they haven’t told their parents about the hidden accounts


A survey of 20,000 schoolchildren by HMC and Digital Awareness UK has revealed for the first time the numbers of young people using private accounts hidden from adult view.

The poll, of 11-18 year olds from state and independent schools across the UK, found:

  • 30% have two profiles and another 10% have three or more profiles on the same platform
  • 57% said they have accounts that adults (described as parents/guardians/teachers) didn’t know about

When asked why they have more than one Instagram profile, the two most popular answers were:

  • Because they want to share different content with different audiences
  • Because they want to keep some information private (described as for their ‘priv’ account)

Example comments:

“One of my profiles is my normal social media, the other is aimed at engaging in discussions over different controversial topics with people online. I don't want my personal beliefs to conflict with my social life (I just want to be able to have serious and friendly discussions with people)”

“One is a ‘private’, a funny one with bad pictures and funny captions, the other is my ‘main’ account and has photos of me and my friends, places I have been, etc.”

“One for nice pictures for everyone to see, a funnier account for only my friends, and a third one for only me and my best friend as a diary”

Mike Buchanan, Executive Director of HMC and former Head of Ashford School, said:

“Sharing content online is key to how young people communicate, form opinions and find their identity. We know social media can be beneficial but is also highly addictive.

“Teenagers have always wanted privacy, but it’s disturbing that so many are being tempted into creating secret online spaces where their parents and teachers cannot find them.

“Young people have far outpaced adults in their understanding of the online world so we need to empower them to make healthy decisions of their own. This requires honest conversations and responding to young people’s needs. That is made harder if they have hidden themselves away online and the adults don’t know what they are doing.”

Emma Robertson, co-founder of Digital Awareness UK, said:

Young people are being increasingly savvy about what they share on social media and who that information is shared with.

“This is partly because they are more aware of their digital footprint, including the possible negative impact of sharing inappropriately with large audiences, and having their data used (or misused) by tech companies.

“They also tell us there are some things they’re happy for close friends to see and other things they’re happy for broader friendship and family groups to see. But parents are often oblivious that this very conscious sharing is happening in the first place, contributing to the ever-widening knowledge gap between children and their parents.”

Samantha Price, Chair of HMC’s Wellbeing Working Group and Head of Benenden School said:

“Schools like ours are working hard to close the knowledge gap between adults and children when it comes to social media.

“At Benenden, we have a team of pupils called Digital Champions who are raising awareness among pupils of good online habits, and we have just launched an On/Off campaign which encourages the girls to think about when it’s appropriate to be using their devices. I’m not claiming that we have all the answers but I am certain that, by working with the pupils themselves, together we can address these issues.”

Counsellor and parenting coach Alicia Drummond of Teen Tips counselling service said:

“Adolescent brain wiring means that teenagers are socially very sensitive and likely to react strongly to any form of judgement, criticism or threat of exclusion. 

“Education is teaching them to be mindful of their digital footprint.  Their experience of the comparison culture that is social media is teaching them to protect themselves by sharing different content with different audiences which means having multiple accounts.  

“Multiple accounts also give them a way to communicate on different levels with different people - a party invitation that can be shared with parents followed by instructions from a different account to ‘bring alcohol because my parents won’t provide it’.

“They are also experimenting with their identity and as this study shows, this is as likely to happen online as offline - in fact they often feel safer exploring different aspects of themselves in virtual space than in real life.

“I am not surprised by the high percentage of young people who have multiple accounts and identities as it chimes with what I hear from them in school visits and in therapy.  

“I am surprised by how few parents know what their teenagers are doing online and think this research is important in raising awareness.  Many parents feel ill-equipped to discuss online activity with their teens and most teenagers are reluctant to share what they are doing in case parents remove access.

“But if parents don’t ask, teenagers won’t tell.   Giving teenagers the message that we won’t take the gadgets away but that we need to work together to keep them safe, helps create an environment that is conducive to discussion.  Discussion gives perspective and with perspective comes choice.”

Dr Anna Scarnà, a neuroscientist and psychology lecturer at the University of Oxford, specialising in personality and psychological disorders, said:

“It is surprising to learn that a high percentage of teenagers admit to multiple accounts. This finding need not be alarming. In many ways, it is to be commended that teenagers are creating second accounts to retain anonymity and to keep information from future employers.

“The practice reflects usage of the internet in creating a brand. Along with most social media, Instagram presents a platform for presenting an ideal self, and teenagers are creating personal accounts ‘to look good’, and second ‘spam’ accounts to present a more genuine self with memes and jokes to friends.

“The worrying psychological aspect is in the need to portray an ideal self of gloss and perfection against a genuine self. This may also reflect family internet habits. Parents may feel a need to show a side of family life which is far from blemishes and negativity, or may own a business which emphasises its positive aspects on the internet.

“With adequate internet education and examples of good practice, we can teach adolescents about this type of internet usage. Parents and schools have a social duty to ensure that teenagers are being educated whilst being kept ‘safe but savvy’. "


For further information contact:

Sue Bishop, HMC External Relations Director [email protected] 07787 294808 or

Sheila Thompson  [email protected] 07958 307637


Editor’s notes

This poll is part of the Tech Control campaign being run by HMC and DAUK, designed to help young people take control of their own use of technology. The Tech Control video and lesson plans are available on the HMC website https://www.hmc.org.uk/tech-control-lesson-plans-hmc-digital-awareness-uk/  and https://www.digitalawarenessuk.com/

HMC (the Headmasters' & Headmistresses' Conference) is a professional association of heads of the world's leading independent schools. HMC has 292 members in the British Isles educating more than 200,000 children, and a further 56 international members. Our members lead schools that are distinguished by their excellence in pastoral care, co-curricular provision and classroom teaching. Members of HMC have met annually in conference since the first meeting in 1869. HMC today is a thriving, pro-active Association of leading figures in school education. See www.hmc.org.uk.

Digital Awareness UK is an award-winning digital wellbeing agency https://www.digitalawarenessuk.com/