Identity development and socio-digital participation among Finnish high school students

Doctoral student Rasmus Mannerström, University of Jyväskylä

Developing a stable personal identity seems a more precarious developmental task in contemporary society than in the past. In a context of normative self-realization and success, parallel to diminishing certainty in labor markets, skilful digital participation may constitute a valuable asset in efficient identity exploration and commitment.

In this study we examined for the first time how socio-digital participation, gaming and related competence were associated with optimal identity development among adolescents (N=920, age 17, 69% women).

A variable-centered approach deploying the DIDS (Dimensions for Identity Development Scale) indicated, as expected, that identity explorative and committed Finnish high-school students were in general more digitally engaged and in particular more skilful and creative than their uncertain and uncommitted peers.

In addition, committed individuals were less into gaming and reported less excessive digital media use. Similarly, a person-centered approach showed that individuals within high commitment identity statuses (e.g. achievement) showed a similar pattern of stronger digital know-how and engagement than their more diffused counterparts (diffusion).

Taken together, students with stable and certain future plans are motivated to be digitally engaged in ways that support their purposes while diffuse students are not. In terms of policy implications, digitalizing the school environment and equipping students with digital devices does not in itself necessarily produce digitally motivated learners.