The recent technological innovation brought many changes in the society over the past century. The twentieth century is a period of technological change; almost everything is not permanent and constantly evolving in order to make the society a better place to live. In the earlier days, man has only known few methods of communication; however, in the modern era, man had already explored the universe bringing forth the latest gadgets to support their needs. In addition, the invention of the World Wide Web is in fact the most helpful tool to search for countless of online information from around the world. It is a program that sends information which is transmitted either via wirelessly or through the lines. The social media is the society’s prime source of endless information; from gossips to politics; sports to recreation and cultural awareness. But the growing concern for its usage is highly debated by media scholars and psychologists. The internet is wide, and diverse place with every information around the world can be only obtained through a single click of the mouse. Despite the ease in accessing information, the innovations and comfort brought by the internet has an effect on the society, particularly on the children development. The purpose of this paper is to enumerate and discuss the effects of the internet on children and how it affects not only their minds but also their behavior and social interaction. There’s a hidden psychological issue between the relation of children and the internet which I will be discussing as we move on this paper.
As argued by Shrader-Frechette & Westra, (1997); technology is the main reason for the progress and development in the society. Technology makes everything easier and faster including the job of the people. It also serves as a prime importance in which the society particularly depends into.
The ‘Net Generation’
The term ‘net generation’ [emphasis added], is a phrase coined by Don Tapscott (2009) to describe the children of the twentieth century whose lives revolve mainly under the influences of the internet, social media and violence. Technically speaking, the net generation are the people who were born between 1982 up to 1991, wherein the drastic technological innovations were made; highly exposing them in the use of computers and other electronic gadgets (Sandars & Morrison, 2007). Indeed, with a single click of the button, one can have the whole world in their hands most particularly if they are students studying for their class. The internet, aside from the books is the prime resource of information. Many schools, colleges and universities employ hundreds of computer literate teachers to teach children on basic computer maneuvering for their classroom needs. Nevertheless, the net generation according to Kallen Tsikalas, director of research and learning services at Computers for Youth (CFY) stated that: “Instead of waiting for a tutor or someone to help them, they are very proactive in seeking help for themselves.” (As cited in Packard, 2007).
Because internet access is ubiquitous in every household; almost all American children have the potential to become intelligent and excel in their extra-curricular activities. In addition, having an easy access towards the internet can open the doors for personal growth. The impact of having so many net generation can be regarded to the society’s functionality since more and more people are getting familiarized with the computer applications. Moreover, the high quality of advanced learning can be easy with the use of web-resources for further information on any particular topic of liking. The alarming nature is also seen on other aspect of the net generation children. The internet, as I have said earlier is a place where diversity is common and the information can be accessed with just one click of the mouse button. Meaning, for the children who are constantly using the internet as their references, there is a high possibility of them stumbling on some unknown websites that might potentially damage their well-being and the family’s security (American Psychological Association, 2014).
The Positive Effects of the Internet in Children
The positives of having an internet connection at home is generally academic and personal. Children who frequently use the computers will develop a strong attachment to these devices which will help them familiarize on the parts and functions of the computer. Second, the internet offers a wide-range of educational services online. The educational videos and posters will help children learn their subjects accurately without boring them to death while listening to the explanations. Children in nature are generally more exuberant, curious and blunt. Due to their innocent nature, most of them will participate greatly in a discussion equipped with visual aids to make them easily remember the topics discussed. Third, because children are normally curious about what they see, they are generally eager to learn new things, and the internet is the best way to start since the World Wide Web is a diverse place filled with many interesting informations and a collection of artifacts from other countries. Furthermore, their excellent cognition on all things can make them intelligent people. Because of the user-friendly search engines designed for better access, children will be able to do their assignments, listen to lectures, attend virtual classes online, do online experiments and read classical books from an online library simply with the click of the button. The vast amounts of information can be easily obtained and the colorful materials will aid them to remember and understand their lessons. In addition, parents can employ private tutors of other language for their children as their extra-curricular activity; thus, making their children highly exposed to foreign language. The more the children are being exposed to these innovations, the more they are willing to learn and improve themselves. Moreover, the American Psychological Association (2014), recognized the efforts of the psychological study led by Michigan State University psychologist and professor, Linda Jackson. Her research aims to elaborate the effectivity of using the internet as a medium of learning and classroom interaction. In her work entitled, Developmental Psychology (Vol. 42, No. 3, pages 429-435) published in 2006; Jackson and her team of psychologists conducted an experiment on 140 children living in highly urbanized areas in an attempt to understand the effects of internet on small income American families. Mostly, African-American children ranging from 13 years of age, and whose annual family income ranges from $15,000 or less than the said amount. Based on their findings, due to the lack of computer and internet access on their homes, the children are allegedly said to have poor grades and did not excel in their respective classes (Packard, 2007; Jackson, Eye & Biocca, 2003). Throughout the entire research period, Jackson and her colleagues provided the families with a personal computer and a free internet access as part of HomeNet Too project, whilst strictly monitoring the children’s internet usage and the participating families allowed the visits of Jackson’s team for further research (Packard, 2007; Jackson, Eye & Biocca, 2003). The team also previously recorded the children’s academic statistics at school before allowing them to use the computer with internet connection and subjecting them to take a standardized examinations to test their knowledge. After the six-month-long experiment, Jackson jotted down the records of the children’s progress.
“Linda Jackson and her colleagues found out that children who used the Internet often showed higher scores on standardized reading tests after six months, and obtained higher grade point averages one year and 16 months after the start of the study than [sic] children who used it less.” (Packard, 2007; Jackson, Eye & Biocca, 2003). In addition, Jackson also quoted that the internet is a more fun method of learning that highly enhanced the children’s academic performance at school, contrary to the existing old methods of teaching (Packard, 2007). The essence of the study is to isolate the facts from fictitious presumptions regarding the issue of internet versus academic excellence. Additionally, Tapscott (2009) argues that, through the use of the internet; children were able to learn using more comfortable and friendly alternatives such as the internet.
The Negative Effects of the Internet in Children
Rebecca Clay (2003) published an article in the APA website about the ‘real’ effects of media on children. Internet is an example of media that can be visited when you go to the computer and access it via search engines. Contrary to the popular beliefs, it is indeed true that the internet has the capability to create or destroy children. To back up this proposition, according to George Gerbner, a media scholar and the former dean of the Annenberg School of Communications in Pennsylvania. He is famous for the proposition of the ‘Mean World Theory’ or commonly known as the ‘Cultivation Analysis’. Previously, the cultivation analysis was intended for the television mayhem; however due to recent technological innovations, the cultivation analysis is now applied to all sorts of media, including the internet itself. The cultivation analysis states that, if a child is frequently exposed to the violence of either television or games, he or she might be able to develop an aggressive behavior in the future whilst thinking the world as a scary place to live in. What I would like to point out on this argument is that the internet, though a separate world from television, is also a media that portrays violent shows and images to the people. Every website from the internet are not suitable for young children as this may internally pollute their brains with gory pictures representing sex and violence. The internet is not always a friendly place to everyone, as I have said, it is a diverse collection of websites compiled together to form the World Wide Web. It is true that the internet can provide easy-to-access information with a single click of the mouse. First, the internet is a place for strangers; indeed this is a fact because the internet is shared by millions of people around the world and there can be no assurance about the legitimacy of their identity. Second, the children are becoming more and more socialized in terms of virtual aspect. Children who spent a lot of time on the computer become lazy not only physically but mentally as well. These little people don’t spend enough time reading books or socializing with their peers, they become technology addicts. Addicted to gaming, phones and internet will cause them to become less physically developed because the body lacks the appropriate exercise needed in order to burn their calories. Furthermore, from other people’s point of view, the internet is said to be a good place to learn; therefore most kids spend excessive hours sitting in front the computer. They make hundreds of friends through social media from across the globe, many of whom they never met in person. Hence, Clay (2003) argues that:
“One of the projects at the Georgetown site features a multi-user domain called TVTOWN. Children participating in the project create "avatars," or alternative identities for themselves, and then use emotion and action menus to interact with other children online. The goal is to see how children build their identities and present themselves to each other.” (Clay, 2003).
Time spent online could have been devoted to sports and face to face conversation. Another important problem faced by parents nowadays is the rampant pornography in the internet, featuring little girls trained to work in brothels to become sex slaves. The term ‘Lolita effect’ is thus applies to this case. Lolita effect is the term that commonly refers to the carnal desires of a man to a girl who is not yet physically ready for sex. However, the issues underlying child slavery has been regarded as a common topic in the internet nowadays. Likewise, to protect the innocent children from viewing these restricted pages, America’s Federal Communications Commission, enacted the Children’s Internet Protection Act in 2000 as a response in the alarming cases of child exploitation. The law prohibits viewing of restricted, obscene images, cyber-bullying and other things pertaining that is related to unruly behaviorism whilst using the internet. It safely implements restricted access to some websites by enabling filtering contents; prevent hackers to steal the data stored in the computer and mostly, prevent the children from viewing images with high sexuality and sadistic contents. Tapscott (2008) argues that:
“They're screenagers, Net addicted, losing their social skills, and they have no time for sports or healthy activities.”
The decrease in social interactions amongst children is mainly due to the influence of the media on their lifestyles. The enjoyment they get, the power they desire to have and the popularity among ‘virtual’ friends also adds to their desire in playing the games. In addition, these changes in the social interaction causes them to drift away from real friends and tend to have a colder attitude towards their family members or siblings. One thing that truly alarms the media psychologists was the fact that excessive exposure over the games, often leads to the losing of self-identity as these players tend to incorporate themselves into the characters that they are playing. Moreover, the threat of the internet also lies on the prevalence of the anti-virus files that the children accidentally downloads, masking its true identity as a program file for their software or as an add-on. High reports of children imitating the behavior of the things they see on the internet is also one of the major concerns of the parents.
Thus, the emergence of the internet can neither be regarded as a good or bad as it includes both aspects. Limiting the children’s internet access is the key to protect them from harmful imagery that may affect their personality and life as well. Still psychologists always prefer parents to always join their children whenever they wanted to access the internet; in that way, parents will be able to guide their kids in choosing the right websites appropriate for their age. The right behavior and to educate them about the perils of excessive usage of the internet for the young children.
I therefore conclude that, the internet has given the humanity the convenience of accessing all the information and data we need in order to improve the society as well as for the sake of better communication of the people around the world. However, as ‘netizens’ of the world, we must be aware about the pros and cons of internet and the proper way of protecting the children, so that they may not be deprived the right to live in harmony without the pollution of the sexual and gruesome imagery of the real world. Though, at some point that this becomes a form of sugar coating the real truth, it is very necessary to do so and the responsibility to protect them lies to everyone. Think before you click!
Children's Internet Protection Act. (2014). Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved 21 April 2014, from http://www.fcc.gov/guides/childrens-internet-protection-act
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