Professor Katariina Salmela-Aro: Bridging the Gaps

– The generation born between 1997 and 2012 has grown up with mobile phones and social media. Some of these adolescents have had an Instagram account before they went to school, and they cannot remember a time before the Internet, which is present day and night, says Professor of Psychology Katariina Salmela-Aro. Mobile phones and social media have revolutionised everything in young people’s lives from social relationships to wellbeing.

Salmela-Aro leads the project Bridging the Gaps, funded by the Academy of Finland. The project studies what effects digitalisation has on adolescents’ learning and their emotional development, the brain and social interaction as well as their sleep and wellbeing. The four-year project starts at the beginning of September and includes professors Kirsti Lonka, Kai Hakkarainen and Kimmo Alho from the University of Helsinki. The Academy of Finland has awarded 280,000 euros to both universities.

Digitalisation provides many opportunities and should not be seen only as a threat. Social media enables new forms of social interaction as well as new kinds of learning. It offers young people new forms of togetherness and creates opportunities to expand networks.

However, Salmela-Aro is worried about the development of adolescents who have grown up with digital devices.

 – This age group is psychologically very vulnerable. It has been observed, for example, that depression and school fatigue have increased among this group. There is preliminary evidence that mobile phones have affected this process. Digital addiction can be seen in sleep disorders, among other symptoms.

– For the development of social skills and emotional control, adolescence is the most important phase of life. We will soon see adults who know which emoji is suitable for a situation but not what the correct facial expression is, Professor Salmela-Aro says.

Dandelions, tulips and orchids

Nevertheless, not all young people are the same. The latest research divides them into three groups: dandelions, tulips and orchids. The Academy of Finland project is also studying these three groups, their wellbeing and education paths, and how they use mobile phones, games and social media.
For dandelions, the use of mobile phones does not affect their wellbeing. For tulips, it has a small impact. In case of highly sensitive orchids, however, the environment greatly affects their life. They flourish in a good growth environment but also are at risk of wilting. For them, mobile phones and digitalisation are simultaneously an opportunity and a great threat. They are often skilful but digitalisation also may easily overwhelm them.


Further information:
Katariina Salmela-Aro, tel: +58 50 415528, katariina.j.salmela-aro@jyu.fi