The on­line world has con­sumed Gen­er­a­tion Z

Many Gen Zers be­lieve so­cial me­dia has di­rectly af­fected their lives, their hap­pi­ness and their over­all well­be­ing

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Front Page - Geral­dine Walsh

Gen­er­a­tion Z – those born af­ter 1995 – have grown up in a di­vi­sive world with a strong ex­ter­nal pres­ence weigh­ing them down.

While Mil­len­ni­als (1981 to mid-90s) and Gen­er­a­tion X (1960s and 1970s) wit­nessed a slow in­te­gra­tion into a world so con­sumed with ad­ver­tis­ing, so­cial me­dia and what be­hav­ior sci­en­tist and au­thor BJ Fogg de­scribes as “cap­tol­ogy”, the cur­rent evo­lu­tion of Gen­er­a­tion Z pul­sates with an ad­dic­tion to a pri­vate, self-con­sumed on­line world.

So­cial me­dia may not be fully to blame for the dis­pro­por­tion­ate at­ti­tudes of the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion, how­ever, it is im­pos­si­ble to say that it has not played some large part in the neg­a­tive change in young adults of to­day, re­sult­ing in higher rates of de­pres­sion, lone­li­ness and a lack of con­fi­dence.

Many of Gen­er­a­tion Z are still young, teenagers, with the old­est of the co­hort en­ter­ing the workforce. The im­pact of so­cial me­dia on their lives has trans­formed how they com­mu­ni­cate, their de­sires for cer­tain ca­reers and de­vel­oped iden­ti­ties which are new and mis­un­der­stood by older gen­er­a­tions who are less in­volved or switched on to the on­line world.

There is a new sep­a­ra­tion from self, from com­mu­nity, with con­fused iden­ti­ties in Gen Z as bom­bard­ment from on­line worlds con­sume them. This has de­vel­oped a fear of liv­ing off­line, even greater than the fear of miss­ing out. As a re­sult, anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion has be­come preva­lent as this change in be­havioural pat­terns deep­ens.

Susi Lodola, coun­selling psy­chother­a­pist, has seen an in­crease of teenagers at­tend­ing her prac­tice, mainly pre­sent­ing with anx­i­ety and with is­sues about fit­ting in with other teens at school. While so­cial me­dia is of­ten blamed for these is­sues, a lack of free­dom dur­ing child­hood may, in part, also be re­spon­si­ble.

“We can look to­wards de­vel­op­men­tal psy­chol­ogy,” ex­plains Lodola, “from which we know that the lens we use to view the world around us is about 50 per cent ge­netic and around 50 per cent comes from our en­vi­ron­ment which we are ex­posed to dur­ing our for­ma­tive years, such as par­ents, friends, teach­ers, ex­tended fam­ily, etc. “Tak­ing this into con­sid­er­a­tion, lack of free­dom could be part re­spon­si­ble, but there are many other fac­tors that would play a role, which stem from the en­vi­ron­ment to which chil­dren are ex­posed. What I see in my prac­tice are of­ten very con­cerned par­ents bring­ing their chil­dren to me be­cause they feel they are not reach­ing their po­ten­tial, or they are not mix­ing in school, etc.

“This would in­di­cate to me that some­times par­ents have very high ex­pec­ta­tions due to want­ing only the best for their child, but this leads to putting in­di­rect pres­sure on a child to ‘per­form’ a cer­tain way. This is con­cern­ing as this would be one of the un­der­ly­ing is­sues caus­ing anx­i­ety.”

Lack of free­dom

Con­sid­er­ing Gen­er­a­tion Z are the most pro­fi­cient in us­ing tech­nol­ogy and delv­ing into the on­line world, there is an own­er­ship for them as they are self-taught and more un­der­stand­ing of the vir­tual world in com­par­i­son to the re­al­ity sur­round­ing them. Per­haps the lack of free­dom in child­hood has es­tab­lished this con­sum­ma­tion into an on­line world as con­trol and un­der­stand­ing is firmly in their hands.

“So­cial me­dia has cer­tainly a role to play in the chang­ing be­hav­iours and at­ti­tudes of this gen­er­a­tion,” says Lodola. “Chil­dren are heav­ily ex­posed to so­cial me­dia dur­ing their for­ma­tive years. One study car­ried out in the US found that young peo­ple get de­pressed about see­ing and hear­ing neg­a­tive news re­ported in the me­dia.

“Be­fore smart phones etc, there was news maybe twice a day on TV, but now we are all ex­posed 24/7 to a stream of news, and a lot of it is very neg­a­tive and cat­a­strophic. It is enough to cause anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion in a child with poor cop­ing skills.”

Be­ing con­sis­tently logged on may cause a de­crease in self-es­teem as the real world and on­line world of Gen Z of­ten play out in tan­dem, with com­par­i­son, jeal­ousy and a fake world sur­fac­ing through neg­a­tive so­cial in­ter­ac­tions.

BJ Fogg’s un­der­stand­ing of “cap­tol­ogy” high­lights the per­sua­sive na­ture of com­puter tech­nolo­gies which in­flu­ence, mo­ti­vate and ul­ti­mately change be­hav­iour. So­cial me­dia has a damn­ing ef­fect on the hu­man mind as it uses trig­gers to ma­nip­u­late our emo­tional state.

Many Gen Zers be­lieve that so­cial me­dia has di­rectly af­fected their lives, their hap­pi­ness and their over­all well­be­ing. For the next gen­er­a­tion this will cer­tainly in­crease if sup­port, un­der­stand­ing and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of this world we are cre­at­ing for up­com­ing gen­er­a­tions is not given a new di­rec­tion or bal­ance. Con­sid­er­ing Gen Z is so deeply, in­ter­nally af­fected by the on­line world, it may be the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the older gen­er­a­tions, who are at a greater dis­tance to so­cial me­dia, to pro­vide this bal­ance.

How­ever, with the idea of “cap­tol­ogy” so in­ces­santly in­grained in our on­line in­ter­ac­tions, is there a way to counter the ad­dic­tion and ma­nip­u­la­tion of gen­er­a­tions to come with­out the in­volve­ment of the higher ups of so­cial me­dia plat­forms them­selves? Where can this bal­ance be found if so­cial me­dia is not ready to change?

“A lot of re­search has to be car­ried out and cur­rently is be­ing un­der­taken to find out the ef­fects of be­ing ‘logged on’ to get an idea how young peo­ple are af­fected,” says Lodola. “In the mean­time, mod­er­a­tion is ad­vis­able. Hav­ing a bal­ance is im­por­tant. Choose times when the phone is de­lib­er­ately switched off, en­gage in one or two hob­bies. It is about find­ing mech­a­nisms that will al­low Gen­er­a­tion Z to have a bal­ance.

“It is also im­por­tant to learn from re­search what the ef­fects are and put some­thing in place for the next gen­er­a­tion, that would be pos­si­bly de­liv­ered through schools and help ed­u­cate and sup­port par­ents.”

Susi Lodola (left), coun­selling psy­chother­a­pist, has seen an in­crease of teenagers at­tend­ing her prac­tice, mainly pre­sent­ing with anx­i­ety and with is­sues about fit­ting in with other teens at school Up­com­ing gen­er­a­tions

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