DUBAI: Vice Media Group has launched the first edition of its “The State of Arab Youth” report.
The regional edition builds on the global document published by Vice Media in 2022 and is based on interviews conducted by the company’s employees, as well as an online survey.
The report’s insights can be put into four key areas: identity, expression, connectivity, and ambition.
Some 52 percent of youth in the Middle East and North Africa region said that personality was the main driver of their identity, while 49 percent attributed it to family, 47 percent to education, and 37 percent to friends.
These markers of identity were found to be stronger in the region than traditional ones globally, such as age and gender.
Julie Arbit, global senior vice president of Insights at Vice Media Group, told Arab News: “Young people in the Middle East are defining themselves by who they are, which is their personality, versus more traditional identity markers of age and gender.”
A total of 57 percent said they expressed their identity through their thoughts and opinions, followed by their appearance (44 percent) and language (40 percent).
Arbit added: “As that concept of identity is becoming more important to young people in the region, they are creating new avenues of expression and remaking culture in the process.”
More than 52 percent of Arab youth use fashion to celebrate their cultural heritage, which is 19 percentage points higher than the global average, while 55 percent use beauty and grooming products to showcase their creativity.
Arbit said: “This expression is not limited to the real world; we’re seeing expression flourish in virtual worlds too, with gaming really becoming a place for Arab youth to express themselves.”
One in three gamers in the MENA region, for example, turn to gaming as a place for self-expression, and 57 percent are excited to explore the metaverse.
Technology also plays a huge role in the lives of Arab youth for both connection and expression, with 69 percent saying they are always looking for ways to use technology to enhance their lives.
Some 30 percent in the MENA region — 14 percentage points higher than the global average — said they “need a lot more” technology to live a happy and healthy life.
The prevalence of technology and social media in the lives of people, especially children and young adults, has led to global concerns around online safety and mental health.
The US called on TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew to appear recently before a bipartisan committee where he was asked about the platform’s adverse impact on children and teenagers, among other things.
Arbit said: “I’d be remiss to say that we don’t recognize the downsides of technology and media. However, what we’ve seen in other studies that we’ve done is that technology can actually improve young people’s mental health.”
She added that another Vice Media study had revealed that gaming in particular works to improve the mental health of young people, who feel it provides a place to escape and relax, as well as connect with other people.
Dina Alsharif, senior strategist at Vice Media’s agency Virtue, said that today’s youth are mindful of the potential dangers of technology and social media, and know how to deal with the issue.
In fact, 54 percent of the MENA youth agree that sometimes they need to take a break from technology, she added.
The youngsters have also acknowledged that in order to lead a happy and healthy life they need resources other than technology, such as money (53 percent), knowledge and education (47 percent), exercise and physical activity (42 percent), and creativity (41 percent), among others.
Some 54 percent of youth said their style is “heavily influenced by what they see on social media,” and 53 percent said they look for new beauty and grooming ideas from their peers on social media.
However, Alsharif said, the influence of social media is not necessarily a bad thing, adding: “We are being influenced by what we see, but at the same time we’re setting the stage.”
For young people in the Arab world, social media is a tool that inspires, influences and connects.
In Saudi Arabia, 70 percent of the population are under 30. As the Kingdom undergoes a massive transformation, Saudi youth are making a very “unapologetic point” about who they are, Alsharif said.
“They see that the change that they want is actually coming to life,” she added.
This is evident in the report, which says that 40 percent of Saudi youth are optimistic about the future of their country, compared to 21 percent globally.
Youth in the region are also more confident about their personal finances than anywhere else in the world, with 50 percent saying their financial health is good or excellent — 14 percentage points higher than the global average.
Alsharif said: “The Saudi youth are really excited about their financial futures and feel like it’s either good or excellent.”
She found the “most exciting” finding to be the level of optimism among Arab youth.
Some 35 percent of Gen Z audiences in MENA are more likely to be very optimistic about the world — 11 percentage points higher than the global average — and 45 percent are more likely to be very optimistic about their country, 15 percentage points higher than the global average.
Alsharif added: “The optimism shows that there’s so much more growth and positive change that’s going to happen. There’s a lot of opportunity and that’s the most exciting part.”