Children of the internet age may be growing up with a potentially dangerous view of the world and their own identity, argues psychiatrist Dr Himanshu Tyagi of the West London Mental Health Trust.
People born after 1990, who were just five-years-old or younger when the use of Internet became mainstream in 1995, have grown up in a world dominated by online social networks such as Facebook and MySpace.
This is the age group involved with the Bridgend suicides and what many of these young people had in common was their use of Internet to communicate. It's a world where everything moves fast and changes all the time, where relationships are quickly disposed at the click of a mouse, where you can delete your profile if you don't like it and swap an unacceptable identity in the blink of an eye for one that is more acceptable.
It may be possible that young people who have no experience of a world without online societies put less value on their real world identities and can therefore be at risk in their real lives, perhaps more vulnerable to impulsive behaviour or even suicide. This is definitely a line of reasoning that warrants more investigation and research.
I became interested in factors shaping an online identity when I founded an online professional network by the name of RxPG (Prescription for Professional Growth) which is now subscribed by more than 60,000 medical graduates and undergraduates worldwide.
There is a massive generation gap amongst current psychiatrists and young patients around internet related issues. A survey of International psychiatrists conducted by me at a recent psychiatric conference in US showed that the vast majority of psychiatrists worldwide were unaware of the full magnitude of impact of online world on the younger generation.
Chat room communication is more likely to encourage disinhibition because of anonymity, and involve reduced sensory experience. If you can't see the person's expression or body language or hear the subtle changes in their voice, it shapes your perceptions of the interaction differently,.
A session in front of the computer is likely to create an altered perception, a dream-like state, an unnatural blending of their mind with the other person - something that rarely happens in real life.
Online social networking provides an equalised status where wealth race and gender were less meaningful; a loss of geographical boundaries which meant that opportunities to access unrestricted peer support are abundant, which can be important in maintaining good psychological health for many. No one is a pariah on net, it works great in flattening the hierarchies of the real world.
But while many people today cannot remember a world without the Internet, it may be quite different for teens and children who cannot imagine a world where you can't go online to talk and apply the same principles to real-world interpersonal communications, mostly to a dysfunctional outcome.
It's vital that we face up to what is happening. The Internet will not go away so these issues, which would inevitably grow in magnitude with time, need to be addressed soon.
Page created on July 6th, 2008
Page updated on December 1st, 2009