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The loneliness of adolescents in the digital age


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Diario de Navarra, El Día, El Diario Montañés, El Norte de Castilla

Gerardo Castillo Ceballos

School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra

We live in the digital era, a time in which society is interconnected with endless possibilities of interaction, thanks to ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies). These new technologies have, in principle, positive effects on adolescents if they do not abuse them and if they avoid using them arbitrarily and recklessly. They facilitate rapid access to all kinds of information content subject , offer new ways of online learning and provide access to a wide range of leisure and entertainment resources.

The downsides of digital technology stem from its misuse, and from the existence of much contact online and little "face to face". These potential harms have been the subject of a recently published study in the United States ("report U.S. General on Social Networking"). The document, which highlights the mental health harms to young people from the use of social networking sites, was prepared by the Office of the US Surgeon General with valuable input from partners across the US government. It describes different types of risks. One of them refers to harm from exhibition to inappropriate content, which can lead to suicides. Another risk is related to excessive, compulsive and uncontrollable use, which can trigger anxiety, depression and neuroticism. It is added that to better safeguard the mental health of adolescents, a close partnership between technology companies and families is required.

Hyperconnectivity has transformed the common leisure habits of teenagers, to the point of making them the loneliest generation in living memory. The amount of time minors spend face-to-face with their friends has been declining sharply since 1970. In 2010 - the heyday of smartphones - this decline accelerated considerably. Those are also the conclusions of a study conducted by researchers at the University of San Diego. It is ironic that in today's hyper-connected world young people feel so lonely. Teenagers say that they connect to avoid feeling lonely, but they are not aware that it is precisely the networks that cause the greatest loneliness, and an even worse consequence: social isolation. Screens close us inside a completely virtual digital bubble that imprisons us in some way, says Julien Mauve, a specialist in the relationship between loneliness and screens.

The crisis of adolescence, with its uncertainty about identity staff, the feeling of insecurity and the leave self-esteem, would not be overcome without belonging to group of peers and living with friends. The inevitable anxiety derived from the physical and psychological changes implicit in the transition from childhood to adulthood calls for friendship. The adolescent needs it in order to feel understood and to know himself better as he sees himself projected in the mirror that is the friend. They also need it as a catalyst for the maturation process staff.

Adolescents are a particularly vulnerable sector of the population with the Internet and new technologies, as they are at an age characterized by the difficulty of detecting risks such as, for example, the interference of the Internet with study and sports, new ways of bullying (cyberbullying) and sedentary lifestyles that favor overweight.

Parents and teachers have a role core topic in preventing problems related to information and communication technologies, providing adolescents with knowledge and skills to help them deal with these problems. It is no less important to know their children's Internet use habits, which requires talking to them about what they do when they use new technologies. Finally, it is advisable to teach them to plan their time in such a way that they do not devote it solely and exclusively to employment of new technologies, and take advantage of it to carry out other important activities such as studying, reading, exercising or being with friends. Parents should learn to use all the control resources that new technologies also offer, such as the multiple protection systems available to prevent access to pages that are not appropriate for minors.

The AIDIR Unit of the International University of Catalonia, in a study on topic, concluded that irritability, obsessive thoughts and social isolation are some of the common behaviors of children and adolescents addicted to screens, but this addiction goes more unnoticed than others, such as alcohol and drugs, despite being no less dangerous.