T Portal: “Psychologist about growing up in the digital age: Moms and dads, teachers and other important adults must remain the most influential influencers”

T Portal journalist Elma Katana spoke with Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center’s psychologist Ella Selak Bagarić about growing up with contemporary media. The interview was published on the T portal under title “The psychologist about growing up in the digital age: These are some other kids and other times that require a different upbringing. But when they leave the screen, who’s left? ” on 16 February, 2020 on T portal:

“According to the research of the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center, young people start to create their digital identity very early. About 30 percent of adolescents have opened their first profile on a social network when they were 10 years old or younger, although the age limit for most social networks is 13 years.”, says Center’s Psychologist Ella Selak Bagarić.

Nowadays, she adds, the common characteristic of each youth group is probably the ‘digital self”.

‘I think it’s important to look first at the context of growing up in today’s youth. The 1990s brought something that completely changed the game, and growing up and life in general. Technology today covers every aspect of life – education, communication, habits. Today’s youth generation’s growing up is marked by the influence of YouTube and Instagram stars, and they are much more active in sharing content with their surroundings – growing up under the watchful eye of a follower and the lights of a cellphone camera that no longer captures only special moments, such as blowing candles, but every moment of their lives. For them, life before the internet didn’t even exist, because they don’t remember it, and it’s amazing to them that ‘we’re adults older than Google’. There is a phenomenon of ‘lights, cameras, action!’ . Typical adolescent day is often portrayed in detail through social networks, in the aesthetics of advertising, and in fact in the function of diaries which hundreds of known and unknown Internet personalities can read’ says Selak Bagarić.

Specificities of Generation Z

‘The youth express their feelings and opinions by sharing everything through social networks – from breakfast preparation videos, pictures of school outfits, to expressing views on current issues and problems, with inevitable memes… New generations of young people have literally grown up on the internet and have been taught to get any content that interests them.

On the other hand, their attention is harder to retain, under the force of all the information they are exposed to through all the media which surrounds them. Information overflow has affected new generations in a whole new way,’ says Ella Selak Bagarić.

‘It is difficult to determine what defines generation Z in the way that Generation X was defined, because generation Z is not unified: information overflow and availability as a consequence of the digital age, can also lead to’ walking’ between different styles. In clinical practice, I notice that when I talk to young people, their preferences have no limits within some traditional dividings. They listen to rock, but can also go out with their company to listen to the the folk music. And when I see them in the waiting room, by their looks I would say that they follow the retro bands. The motivation to enter into some form of community is quite different to them than it was in previous generations. Subcultures were once rebellions against mainstream flows, expressing individuality against social norms, and now the focus seems to be on building closeness based on common interests, which often start online for young people ‘, adds the psychologist.

According to Selak Bagarić, Generation Z is actually more expressed and defined through its friendly groups, and they are more unique and exclusive than subcultures in the past. Young people grow up with different cultures at their fingertips, have developed skills to research and search for content and discover their own narrow interests and styles, across the borders of one group. They choose their combination and do not qualify for a single category. Young people today are forming new, even more unique communities because today it is much easier to be, as some authors put it, ‘subculturally promiscuous’.

The boundaries between local and global reality have been completely erased – they talk to peers from all over the world, sharing common interests, equally important are Croatian and American, Korean or Serbian influencers, daubers, athletes… following trends, but changing them because everything is accessible to them – they build identity, meaning and values ​​under the influence of all these sources.”, says Ella Selak Bagarić.

‘Let’s be honest, differences and divisions exist in all spheres of society, in which it is imperative to be richer, more beautiful, better known, younger. The message is that our personal value is measured by social success and fulfilling social norms. Children differ in many ways, but they are facing many requests from their environment, primarily parents and the school system, they are all sending messages to the kids that “excellence is a must”, often neglecting children’s mental health. Children do not have the capacity to deal with such messages and demands, at least not to the extent that they will have in adulthood. I wouldn’t say that differences in popularity are the exclusivity of this generation, but the pressure on young people today is bigger and different. We psychologists always mention the needs common to all people on the path to self-actualization, which include, in addition to physiological ones, the need for security, belonging, self-esteem … ”, she said.

While in earlier generations popularity was almost an abstract notion of subjective experience, the psychologist explains, today’s kids can pretty much quantify their popularity: they have followers, likes, number of views and shares, positive or negative comments seen throughout their online community. Although popularity does not imply closeness with others or even sincere affection and respect, young people perceive it as an indicator of their own worth.

‘Many of the children I worked with told me that they had no one and that they were rejected, and later in the conversation I would find out that they had long-time friends from elementary school, handball … But they didn’t have enough friends on social networks, nor a sufficient number of likes. The importance of physical appearance today has an additional, digital sphere, and young people have two mirrors, one of which is the screen of their gadgets. They have a real-life identity, but also a digital one. With the stereotype of how beautiful is good, from clinical experience we know that many girls and young men spend hours and hours making the best selfie photos, competing with themselves and with others. Girls who are popular in their surroundings by the aforementioned standards can tell me in clinical practice that they sometimes make even 100 selfies, until one of them is satisfied. But none is published online without beautification and filters. The tagging in photos posted by others is horrifying because they have no control over it. They approach their digital identity as a brand whose success needs to be preserved, and life has a live stream, at least idealized one’ says Selak Bagarić:

‘It is important to know that being popular doesn’t imply that you have high self-esteem and a good self-image – of the true ‘self’. 

By constantly checking the number of likes, children seem to check on their own value

The latest survey of a Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center, conducted on a high school sample in Croatia, shows that half adolescents check social networks immediately, third check them several times a day, and fifth adolescent constantly check them, regardless whether or not has notification arrived.

‘So even ‘popular kids’ are feeling a lot of pressure to stay online, they are afraid they will miss something, and their presentation on social media is something that can really work like a full-time job today. But networking doesn’t mean connectivity either. Because life on Instagram is far from life in reality – when they leave the screen, who’s left to them? By constantly checking the number of likes, or reviews, they seem to check on their own worth, they seek the self-esteem they lack. For today’s children a friendly attitude entails admiration, constant attention, rating, which can cause a lower self-esteem in observers who don’t get them. Lower self-esteem can be caused also by the ‘popular’ absence of further gratification. Even from a false profile,’ says the psychologist.

CAUTION: Bullying manifests as negative comments

‘When talking about youth violence, mental health experts often point out that social networks reinforce a sense of insecurity while seeking self. And bullying – which is manifested here in the form of negative comments – becomes increasingly cruel because of the new dimensions that social networks bring: continuous exposure, at any moment, the possibility of anonymity, lack of face-to-face contact … According to a survey by the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center, one in five children (21 percent) repeatedly or frequently received abusive messages or comments via Facebook, 46 percent of children has experienced it at least once.  Among children who have been repeatedly exposed to abusive messages or comments via Facebook,  53 percent experienced that these messages have continued even after they asked a sender to stop’, says psychologist Selak Bagaric.

‘In the absence of the expected number of likes, emotional and behavioral problems may occur in young people, similar to the experience of peer violence. Unfortunately, we adults often respond only when the damage is already present. Children ask parents and other significant people in their lives to confirm that they are loved, important, capable… through their presence, authentic interest and a mirroring of what we see in them – not just declaratively. Therefore, parents and other caregivers play a significant role in creating a positive image in children. It is important for us who care about them, which includes school staff, to accept that the digital world is a reality where children and young people live, and not only their hobby or leisure’ says the psychologist.

This generation loves the tips and answers that are applicable to their reality

Parents and adults often give up education on the pretext of ‘losing the battle’ with technology.

‘They overlook their life experience and maturity, which is exactly what adolescents need, but in the form of guidance and support, and not prohibition and control. Upbringing does not begin in adolescence, and neither a relationship of trust and good communication with children – they must already be built up by this period. If so, if children and young adults in the surrounding environment recognize the source of support, then we have an irreplaceable potential for positive impact in this period. Even when we encounter adolescent resistance, our job is to listen and try to understand the needs of young people, now more than ever. Whether or not they have thousands of followers and their gadgets, they all want to spend more time with those who matter to them – they want a message that they are ours no matter what. Moms and dads, teachers and other important adults must remain the most influential influencers, especially when the screens go off and their photos aren’t perfect. They may have 1000 online friends, but who knows them in reality? That is why we must allow ourselves to learn from children’ she highlights.

‘Adults should not raise their hands of education with the excuse that the digital world is something close to children and unknown to them. Let’s ask the children what they like to read, listen to, who they like on social networks and why, because through their interest in the important things, we show that they are important to us, which is an opportunity for a new common interest with the child. As we learn about their world, we also have the opportunity to direct them when we recognize the danger. And finally, let’s just say that the phrase ‘when I was your age’ is completely meaningless – these are some other kids and some other times that require a different upbringing. When we were their age, we had never even heard of social networking sites and we spent a bunch of money just to talk to family abroad. Can it be reason that we do it now? Your child is not you. Even though you have your own growing up experience, your child is entitled to their own, unique experience. Our job is to monitor and direct it, but not to divert it. This generation loves the tips and answers that are applicable to their reality, not those that may mirror our experiences. Also, ee can focus on feelings, fears, desires and dreams – this is something universal, which corss all generational boundaries’ warns Selak Bagarić. 

Source: T portal

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