Since the pandemic started, our teenagers spend more and more time immersed in the virtual world. The Covid-19 It has only accelerated a process that began 15 years ago, when social media landed in our lives.
But we are not only talking about social networks: we talk about online games, chats, video calls and of all the possibilities that new technologies offer. The adolescent finds a virtual world in which he spends more and more time. A whole world inside your bedroom.
A virtual reality created to measure, where Big Data takes care of putting exactly what matches their interests on a tray, where they can be as attractive as they want, where they reinforce their self-esteem and enhance their narcissism at the stroke of a like.
In this virtual world, safe, tailored, and moldable, we create a digital identity that goes beyond physical reality. An alter ego that transcends us, and that is nothing but an improved version of ourselves, where we project our shortcomings and desires.
Filters and touch-ups help us to modify our physical appearance. We select the image that we want to give, showing and sweetening those facets of life that we consider most desirable or attractive. In that digital alter ego we project our shortcomings and desires, that is, we sublimate ourselves.
This digital identity is not us. Or if? What is undeniable is that it exists and has a life of its own. That merges with our self and impacts the real world.
What are the consequences of this phenomenon?
- Social isolation. The virtual world is more attractive, secure and predictable than the real world. It is more difficult for negative emotions to appear, since interactions and content are selected. The adolescent unfolds in the comfort of a custom world.
- Body image disorders. The adolescent gets used to seeing himself with an unrealistic image, molded by retouching and filters. In front of the mirror, reality confronts this image of its digital alter ego. And obsession with physical appearance, eating disorders or aesthetic touch-ups may appear.
- Development of an avoidant personality. In the real world we have no control, we cannot "delete" a negative comment or touch up what we do not like. It does not offer us content or experiences selected from Silicon Valley to connect with our tastes. The real world is wild, unpredictable and stings. It's an emotional jungle when compared to the sugary virtual environment. The adolescent becomes "soft", loses the possibility of feeling, of suffering, of experiencing. And avoidance appears: they flee from disturbing or negative emotions because they have not developed the resilience to face them.
- Diffusion of identity. Identity is forged over the years in a process that culminates in adolescence. However, now the real identity collides with the virtual identity: "Who am I? The one in the mirror, or the one on my Instagram profile?" Trying to integrate these two identities causes a dissonance that will be expressed in the form of symptoms: anxiety, depression or existential crisis.
- Overexposure of privacy. Their room is public domain, they share what they do at all times, everything is public. The private sphere does not exist.
- Banalization of sexuality. Sexualized content, nude photos or photos in a provocative attitude are standardized and published without shame. Sexuality has become one more viral content.
- Reformulation of personal relationships. It is no longer necessary to meet in the real world, friendships and loves not only arise, but sometimes only exist, in the virtual world.
- Digital bulimia. Hyperconsumption of content. Adolescents consume content and spit it out in a dizzying, compulsive way. Nothing is enough. There is no depth. You have to consume, share, and not be excluded from the viral, because otherwise you are out of the system.
- Attention and memory problems. Virtual content is designed to be quickly consumed. The adolescent does not need to spend more than a few seconds on a post. The ability to pay attention is lost, or directly, is not trained. Tasks that require more sustained effort, such as reading a book or studying, become tedious and boring. Because there is no immediate reward.
- Narcissism. His ego feeds on likes, approval, compliments. The selfie is the greatest expression of digital narcissism: that selfie is more for oneself than for others.
- Self-esteem problems. Compete in beauty, wit or humor with the products of fashion (youtubers, tiktokers ...) is impossible. The adolescent can never reach that level of perfection, which, although he does not know it, has been designed and pre-cooked.
How can we minimize this impact?
First, controlling the time our children spend in the virtual world. Monitoring its contents, confronting and explaining how unreal and manipulated is most of what they see.
Promoting critical thinking, helping them develop the ability to question things: to be critical digital consumers. Offering them real alternatives to the virtual world and, above all, educating them in the correct use of ICTs.