Teenagers, Monkeys, and Mirrors

“Teenagers, Monkeys, and Mirrors” is chapter 5 in The Cyber Effect” an important book by Mary Aiken, Ph.D., a cyberpsychologist.  This post will say nothing about monkeys and mirrors.  To read about monkeys and mirrors in this context you will need to get your own book.

Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers did valuable research into how a young person develops identity.  He describe self-concept as having the following three components:
The view you have of yourself—or “self-image.”
How much value you place on your worth—or “self-esteem.”
What you wish you were like—or “the ideal self.”

Carl Rogers lived long before the creation of cyberspace.  Were he alive today it is likely he would have added a fourth aspect of “self.”  Dr. Aiken calls this “the cyber self”—who you are in a digital context.  This is the idealized self, the person you wish to be, and therefore an important aspect of self-concept.  It is a potential new you that now lives in a new environment, cyberspace.  Increasingly, it is the virtual self that today’s teenager is busy assembling, creating and experimenting with.  The ubiquitous selfies ask a question of their audience:  Like me like this?  Dr. Aiken asked the question, which matters the most: your real-world self or the one you’ve created online?  Her answer is probably the one with the greater visibility.

Adolescents are preoccupied with creating their identity.  The psychologist Erik Erikson described this period of development between the ages of twelve and eighteen as a state of identity versus role confusion, when individuals become fascinated with their appearance because their bodies and faces are changing so dramatically.  So this narcissistic behavior  is considered a natural part of development and is usually outgrown. However, in this age of cyberspace fewer young adults are moving beyond their narcissistic behavior.  A study of U.S. college students found a significant increase in scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1982 and 2006.

Plastic surgery is another area that has been impacted by technology.  The easy curating of selfies is likely linked to a rise in plastic surgery.  According to a 2014 study by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), more than half of the facial surgeons polled  reported an increase in plastic surgery for people under thirty.  Surgeons have also reported that bullying is also a cause of children and teens asking for plastic surgery.  This is usually a result of being bullied rather than a way to prevent it.

Another problem is Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).  “Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder are obsessed with imagined or minor defects, and this belief can severely impair their lives and cause distress.  Individuals with BDD are completely convinced that there’s something wrong with their appearance—and no matter how reassuring friends and family, or even plastic surgeons, can be, they cannot be dissuaded.  In some cases, they can be reluctant to seek help, due to extreme and painful self-consciousness  But if left untreated, BDD does not often improve or resolve itself, but become worse over time, and can lead to suicidal behavior.

Dr. Aiken notes that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have pledged to donate 99% of their Facebook shares to the cause of human advancement.  That represented about $45 billion of Facebook’s current valuation.  She respectfully suggests that all of this money be directed toward human problems associated with social media.

Dr. Aiken notes that eighty years ago the American philosopher and social psychologist George Herbert Mead had something very relevant to say about how we think about ourselves—and express who we are that has special relevance today.  Mead studies the use of first-person pronouns as a basis for describing the process of self-reflection.  How we use “I” and “me” demonstrates how we think of self and identity.  There is “I”.  And there is “me”.  Using “I” shows that he or she has a conscious understanding of self on some level.  Using “I” speaks directly from that self.  The use of “me” requires the understanding of the individual as a social object.  To use “me” means figuratively leaving one’s body and being a separate object.  “I” seems to have been lost in cyberspace.  The selfie is all “me”.  It is an object—a social artifact that has no deep layer.  Dr. Aiken writes,  “This may explain why the expressions on the facies of selfie subjects seem so empty.  There s no consciousness.  The digital photo is a superficial cyber self.

Dr. Aiken advises to do what you can to pull kids back to “I’ and not let them drift to “me.”.  This is strengthened by conservations such as

*Ask them about their real-world day, and don’t forget to ask them about what’s happening in their cyber life.

*Tell them about risks in the real world, accompanied by real stories—then tell them about evolving risks online and how to not show vulnerability.

*Talk about identity formation and what it means—distinguishing between the real-world self and the cyber self.

*Talk about body dysmorphia, eating disorders, body image, and self-esteem—and the ways their technology use may not be constructive.

*Tell your girls not to allow themselves to become a sex object—and tell your boys not to treat girls as object online—or anywhere else.

HM is often envious of of the technology available to today’s youth.  And he is envious of cyberspace with the exception of the difficulties created by the perverse way that technology is being used that exacerbates the transition through adolescence.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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