How Digital Media Affects Young People

In the morning, barely waking up, I grab my iPhone to check emails, Facebook notifications and new pictures on Instagram. It is as normal as to brush my teeth and drink a glass of water. Going online became a part and parcel of my life and a million other people around the world. We live in the time when a strong online presence is very desirable and the opposite can even be seen as weird and unnatural. Toddlers know how to turn on a TV and even a computer or a laptop and can even accidentally post their parents pictures online. Young children sometimes are more confident Internet users than their parents. However, how normal is it, their parents wonder. Probably there are some consequences to such digital precociousness. In the Age of Information, each and every one is affected by digital media. There is a generation of young people who do not know the world without digital media and there is a growing concern that it irrevocably affects their brain. Simply put some think that modern young people are dumber than their parents because of the constant exposure to and overstimulation of digital media. However, experts say that electronic gadgets develop important skills necessary in modern society such as problem solving, working under pressure and socializing. Despite the increasing concern that the Internet makes young people addictive to online media and cause many other problems such as worse academic performance, inability to concentrate as well as bullying, digital technology should not be confounded because it cannot be good or bad; rather it challenges people to reconsider their values and to reorganize their priorities.

Probably the first thing that comes to mind of an adult when he or she hears that modern young people are obsessed with digital media and spend online seven to ten hours is concern and worrisome expression in the eyes. For them it probably signals that teenagers are bad at socializing and can exchange only half-formed syllables like lol, LMAO, and OMG. Indeed, young people came to have online and offline personas and their online life became as rich with events, or even richer, as their life off the screen. Yet digital world certainly has an effect on how they behave. Teachers say that teenagers and young people have problems with memorizing things as they turn to Google search at every opportunity. Some teachers even have to resort to the ‘no phones in class’ policy. Psychologists inform that a string of psychological disorders line up after young people have been indulging their obsession with going online frequently and harvesting praise from strangers for some time. There is an addiction to posting selfies as well as neurological disorder of constantly checking one’s social media for messages and comments.


However, if one tallies up all advantages and disadvantages of digital media, it would probably end in a draw. In the documentary Digital Nation, Professor of the Social Studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sherry Turkle says that digital media “is not good or bad… it is powerful and complicated”. For example, a one-third of teenagers admit that social media contributes to their positive image of themselves, makes them feel more secure and less shy, whereas 3 to 5% say that their experience with social media is rather negative. The 2013 questionnaire on how young people view their relationship with social media reveals, “When it comes to relationships with friends, more than half (52%) of teens said social media has made them better versus just 4% who said it has negatively affected those relationships”. It is explained by the fact those teenagers who receive positive feedback get confidence from posting their selfies. The important nuance here is not what kind of comments they get but what they notice.

In her article “The Upside of Selfies: Social Media Isn't All Bad For Kids,” CNN reporter Kelly Wallace writes that young people are engaged in all that online social interaction for the sake of the so called ‘virtual pats on the back’. Those who get them in the form of positive comments and likes have positive experience, those who do not believe that social media is wrong for them. There is indeed the problem of cyberbullying but, according to Shira Lee Katz, a director of digital media at a non-profit organization, “For every heartbreaking case of cyberbullying, there are many stories of teens using social media for good”. For example, one of the most incredible things that digital media can do is connect people. No more should young people from small towns feel isolated and out of place if their interests are unusual for the place where they live. Young people can even get help in case of need when they contemplating suicide or grieve the demise of a close one.

However, as much as strangers can support one’s failing confidence they can violate privacy. Cathleen Cleaver’s article “The Internet: A Clear and Present Danger?” reminds that the Internet makes pornography more available to teenagers than ever and also makes them more accessible for pedophiles. Not only young people can stumble across “public sites featuring the perversion of their choice” but also they can be chatted up by disguised adults on forums and in chat rooms. Apart from an immediate danger that teenagers might face, the author is concerned with what kind of society these teenagers would inherit from the adults who do not protect them from the perils of sexually-charged online world. “What does unrestricted Internet pornography teach children about relationships, about the equality of women?” asks Cleaver. As a way out, Cleaver suggests the government to legally restrict pornography-related activity in the Internet. One of the easiest ways is to require from search engines is “[not] to run ads for porn sites or prioritize search results to high-light porn”. Additionally, Nadine Strossen’s “The Perils of Pornophobia” points out that there are not scientifically proved researches or studies that confirm a connection between “pornography and the commission of sexual violence”. In fact, “a greater availability of sexually explicit material seems to correlate … with higher indices of gender equality”. Therefore, for young people it can have a salutary effect to find out in certain age that sexual practices can be very varied.

Young people often feel empowered by digital media. Seeing the success of other people they feel inspired, observing progress of their peers in fitness or diet or quitting smoking prompts them to do the same. Plus the speed of modern life is accelerating and digital media helps people stay on top and be in the loop of all the event and news. An increasing number of young people boast to have a habit of multitasking. They admit that they usually are doing their homework while listening to music or watching YouTube, occasionally checking emails and hanging in a messenger program chatting with friends. At that these young people believe that they are good at all their activities whereas in fact they are not. Obviously living in such a mode leave a mark on one’s brain and scientists confirm it. In Digital Nation, experts reveal that surfing the Internet activates different parts of the brain than reading a book does. Yet it is difficult to evaluate it as good or bad. When written language spread people also lamented a worsening of memory. It means that humanity is developing and even if now it looks more like a regress to an older generation, it does not change the dynamic.

Eventually one should ask why adults are so worried about young people having freedom and going online unobserved. Probably behind it there is “cultural fear [rather than] by intellectual curiosity”. It leads the conversation to the old wisdom that children and young people need adults to talk to them. A healthy communication is able to answer many questions and prevent many troubles. Adults often want to control and dominate teenagers whereas they need more freedom to be able to use their better judgment. Now humanity is able to observe the change from print world to the visual world. And young people are well equipped for the change. They know how to navigate the web and how to socialize with people of any age and status. It is pointless to prohibit digital media or try to restrict the use. The better way out is to help young people in case of need and probably learn from them how to use digital media effectively. As Turkle said in Digital Nation, “Technology challenges us to assert our human values and for it we should understand what our values are”.

Summing up one can see that the Internet has both positive and negative sides, as everything in this life. In relations to teenagers and young people, the best tactics for adults is not to prevent them from exploring it and adapt to the changes in the world. Amidst the common outcry that digital media dumbs people down experts say that things can’t be all that bad and young people’s brains are changing together with the world and it is impossible to stop. Despite the perils of digital media such as open access to pornography and vulnerability of teenagers, there are many positive sides when young people can stay in touch, morally support each other with kind words, and embrace their uniqueness.

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