Is the internet bad for young people?

Media use by young people : Always online, never alone again

Young people walking through the pedestrian zone and not being able to take their eyes off their smartphones. Groups of students sitting together and texting each other at the same time with others who are far away. Children staring at displays.

"Actually everyone is on Facebook"

Today they are familiar images, technology has become a constant companion during puberty. These are the digital natives 2.0. Today's youth are the first generation to grow up with mobile internet and social networks. "With the exception of a few people, everyone is actually on Facebook," says Moritz Lang. The 15-year-old is in the ninth grade of the Leibniz Oberschule in Kreuzberg. Like many of his classmates, he uses the social network. He has around 300 friends there. “Something like that unites us because everyone simply has it.” Almost every one of his classmates also has a smartphone. He himself has had a cell phone since fourth grade, including an Internet-enabled iPod, Facebook app and Whatsapp.

This is now part of the basic equipment of German teenagers. According to the JIM youth media study in 2013, over half of twelve to thirteen-year-olds already had a smartphone, and more than 70 percent of teenagers up to 19 years of age. The age at which children get their first cell phone has steadily decreased in recent years, while mobile Internet use has increased rapidly. Young people are now online an average of three hours a day.

The unbearable accessibility of being

No wonder that with these consumption habits, the parents' generation looks at the young people with concern. They also know the unbearable accessibility of being from their everyday life and are now apparently tired of it. A title in the magazine “Cicero” gets excited about the enslavement of people by smartphones. The brain researcher Manfred Spitzer recently talked about the "digital dementia", which is the spiritual desolation of young people by the new media.

And warnings have also been issued in America for years. In her lecture “Connected, but alone?” At the TED conference, US sociologist Sherry Turkle warned that the desire to be constantly connected only leads to greater loneliness and self-isolation. “I share, therefore I am,” she says - sharing in order to feel. For many of the older generation, the question is no longer how to get online, but how to find out from there.

For young people, online behavior becomes a test of self-control. At breakfast and dinner with the family, he puts his iPod down, says Moritz Lang. A few of his classmates have unsubscribed from Facebook, some because of the NSA scandal, others because it simply took up too much time. The potential for distraction from the media is enormous. "On the one hand, it is of course fun, and on Facebook you constantly receive news from pages that you have liked," says the student. On the other hand, you quickly forget what you have read in the fleeting news stream. "Personally, I sometimes get caught in there too."

Schools prohibit cell phones in class

Many educational institutions no longer trust the self-control of students. They pulled the plug and are now betting on an absolute ban on cell phones, both in class and in the playground. In the 2012/13 school year, the Leibniz Oberschule decided to ban cell phone use on the school premises, with the exception of the lunch break. In the event of a violation, the device may be temporarily withdrawn.

Christiane Thies, teacher at the Kreuzberg all-day school, says the aim was to counter a trend: "We found that breaks were no longer used for recreation, but games were played - especially by the younger students." the students would then have made up for it in class. The concentration of the students would also suffer. According to Thies, this development has increased especially in the past three to four years. The student council protested against the school's measure. Without success. "Cell phone withdrawal is almost the worst for the students, even if it's only for one day," says Thies.

For Stephan Humer, internet sociologist at the Berlin University of the Arts, this is understandable. Cell phones are necessary just to be able to meet on the go - simply because phone booths are becoming increasingly rare. The same applies to the Internet: “What used to be piano lessons or home lessons is now the time you are online,” says Humer. Being online is part of everyday life. According to the Bitkom study on “Youth 2.0”, a good half of German 13 to 18 year olds can no longer imagine a life without the Internet.

Social networks have positive effects

Current surveys in the USA by Common Sense Media Research and the Pew Research Institute also show the following picture: Social networks have more often positive effects than negative effects for young people. Many teenagers in the United States report that socializing has made them more confident and extroverted. The relationship with family and friends has improved thanks to Facebook and Co. And despite SMS and Voicemail, the majority of young people clearly prefer face-to-face communication. The most active twitterers and SMS writers are also most likely to seek personal contact with their friends. Loneliness and social isolation through new technology? Hardly likely.

A look at the USA also shows that young people do not make themselves dependent on individual services. Even the over-network Facebook is no longer just the fixed point in the online life of many teenagers. These show flexibility: if they are annoyed by Facebook, they move on to the next community and build new digital strongholds in fields that are then called Tumblr, Instagram or Snapchat.

And the constant availability? Can young people deal with the fact that they now also have to do social reputation management online and maintain their own profile in their free time? The problems in puberty are basically the same as before, says the Berlin media educator Michael Lange. Most young people don't make the separation between the offline and online world anyway. For them, social networks and the like are part of everyday life.

“Time Magazine” had a cover story about “Me Me Me Generation” last summer. Author Joel Stein used it to describe young people who, due to their experience with social networks and 15-second fame on Youtube, should be more self-confident and agile than previous generations, but also have a pronounced narcissism and make many demands. Stein said she had the potential to become a new “Greatest Generation”. So far, the German media have been more cautious. Why actually?

At Moritz Lang's school, the teaching staff now work with internet-enabled smartboards, and some upload their teaching material to Facebook groups. Maybe the right thing for the generation that is always on.

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