ADOLESCENCE IN THE TIME OF FACEBOOK
by Giulia Prochilo
The Internet is the most powerful mass media tool ever. Through social networks, chat lines, emails and blogs it allows people from all corners of the world to communicate with each other from their homes, offices or while on the road. The Internet is also the easiest and the fastest way to find all kinds of information, even though it is sometimes unreliable. Its expansion into every moment of our daily lives – thanks to smartphones permanently connected to the Internet – have caused a substantial change in social and cultural attitudes and in ways of establishing interpersonal relationships.
Who has mainly been affected by this deep change?
Obviously today’s teenagers, so-called digital natives, born into a world populated by tablets, smartphones, the cloud and e-learning. They spend most of their time surfing on the Internet, sometimes forgetting about the real world. The Italian Society of Preventive and Social Pediatrics (SIPPS) considers this attitude a new form of dependence, the so-called Internet Addiction Disorder (I.A.D.). In a recent interview published on the website of the Italian daily La Stampa, the President of SIPPS, Doctor Giuseppe Di Mauro discusses this addiction, noting that the internet – especially social media – gives emotionally unstable teenagers a kind of shelter, a parallel world where they can look for new friends or fall in love, replacing real life relationships.
The social network most used by teenagers is undoubtedly Facebook. According to a Report to Italy’s Parliament by Vincenzo Spadafora, Guarantor for Childhood and Adolescence, 82% of teenagers have a Facebook account. They use it to keep in touch with their friends, sharing their feelings, ideas, videos and photos. It can be considered an evolution of the secret diary that we girls wrote before going to sleep!
However, on the basis of what my 16-years-old cousin Chiara told me, it seems that teenagers use Facebook above all to feel accepted by their peers, and this means getting Likes under your posts and under your photos. It may seem ridiculous, but it’s the truth!
Yesterday my cousin came to my house, lamenting the fact that only three users had clicked the Facebook Like button under a photo she had recently posted. Was I hearing right? I wondered. She explained that the quest for Likes is a sort of challenge, and if it fails, could produce dissatisfaction. She needs the approval of her friends, “it is necessary if you want to be considered ok, trendy. If you don’t get Likes, you aren’t accepted by the group.”
I believe that this continuous attempt to be accepted is also due to the fear of becoming victims of cyberbullying. These bullies act against peers they consider different from the majority because of their appearance, origins or sexual orientation. According to market research carried out by IPSOS for Save the Children, 72% of teenagers consider cyberbullying the most dangerous social phenomenon of their time. The teenagers interviewed felt that episodes of cyberbullying are worse than the real life variety, because cyberbullies can say and do whatever they want without limits, at any hour of the day or night, causing real psychological problems for victims and parents who may not know how to deal with the problem.
Another social phenomenon which is a cause of concern to many parents nowadays is called sexting: teenagers send or receive pornographic texts/photos/videos. In Italy, 1 in 4 young people has been a victim of sexting, according to data collected by Giovanni Ziccardi, a specialist in IT law at Milan State University. His report explains what drives teenagers to send this kind of material: 11.1% of them do it as a joke, 8.6% to imitate their friends and 4.6% do it to cause embarrassment. However, 50% of teenagers do not consider sexting a dangerous practice.
But the Net doesn’t only have a dark side! It also allows teenagers to keep informed about what is happening in the world, to learn about other cultures or learn other languages. The point is that they sometimes use this resource badly. I totally agree with Laura Boldrini, President of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, who suggested a digital education project which would enable young people and adults to learn how to be Net-aware, as regards our rights and responsibilities.
There are initiatives whose aim is to avoid phenomena such as cyberbullying and sexting. A project created by Italy’s State Police, for example, carried out in cooperation with the Department of Education and called Vita da Social (life in social media) aims to teach parents and children to recognise the dangers of the Net.
Initiatives of this sort also aim to involve the whole family, which still plays a crucial role in children’s upbringing and is also an important source of information for young people.
What about you? Did you spend a lot of time on the Internet as a teenager?Do you think it harmed you?
If you are a parent, what are your views?