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Young people in a vulnerable position as media users

The original Finnish text has been published in the guide “Kysy, kohtaa, kuuntele. Opas seksuaalisen houkuttelun ja seksuaaliväkivallan ennaltaehkäisyyn nuorisotyössä”, Koordinaatti.
Although this article deals with young people, children may also be targets of sexual solicitation and harassment.

Interaction with friends is a significant part of the media use of young people. Peers also have a major impact on how young people use media. What is the communication culture between friends like? What behaviour is acceptable and normalized? Roasting? Joking? Trying to attract attention by sharing selfies in revealing outfits? Talking about interesting topics and sharing fun links? Or is the young person also lonely in social media and tries to find strangers to talk to?

Adults should understand that young people are in a vulnerable position as users of digital media due to their growth phase, development and budding sexual identity. Although young people may seem mature, their activities are governed by an immature brain where awakening sex hormones and rising stress hormone levels expedite the turmoil in the highest part of the brain, the pre-frontal lobes.

The pre-frontal lobes are responsible for impulse control and rational thinking in emotionally charged situations. Sometimes it seems that teenagers pursue experiences in a high-risk manner. The decision-making logic of a young person may seem crazy to an adult, if the young person, for example, decides to speed on a moped, jumps off a cliff to do a daring dive or naively trusts a complete stranger in social media.

Various online communities, social media platforms and digital games provide convenient places to solicit young people. Chatting with a stranger may feel like an exciting adventure that offers the young person acceptance and understanding of their personal opinions and body as well as appreciation and the attention they desire.

Compliments and beautiful words feel good and boost the young person’s self-esteem. At the same time, their sexual awakening and interest towards related themes may also lead to a situation where the young person wants to continue communication with a mature person who knows something about the topic. Sometimes young people may chat with a stranger purely out of curiosity or the fact that the new acquaintance is attractive. The young person may also wish for new friends.

It may be easy to become infatuated with a faceless conversation partner, because the young person can fill in the information gaps, bound to exist when face-to-face contact is missing, however they wish in their own mind. A private profile can help protect the young person from the contacts of strangers, but in the period of social media, it is ultimately difficult to avoid contacts from strangers entirely. There are so many channels for making contact, and the internet makes it possible to establish contacts even with young people who would otherwise be hard or impossible to reach.

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