Internet use can isolate kids instead of linking them to the world, leading to depression, eating disorders, and other problems. Learn more about what can go wrong when kids log on--and what parents can do to help.

Johanna Ambrosio, Tech Journalist

April 28, 2006

3 Min Read

Not All Bad
Even with all the potential dangers, child-development and other experts are quick to point out many benefits. Children can, and often do, stay in touch with friends who have moved away, or with far-flung family members. Shy children can sometimes find a community and say things from the comfort of their home that they're not able to say in person. A child with a rare medical condition has a ready-made support network. Rural kids can stay in touch with others who are isolated geographically.

And then there's the matter of information online. Kids routinely look up all sorts of things that have nothing to do with their schoolwork, from information on a parent's illness to online quizzes about their own sexuality. "Kids who are struggling to define their own sexual orientation can find helpful information and reassurance from kids who have been through a similar experience," Fassler says.

The Connected Generation

kid at the computer

82%
Percentage of kids who are online by the seventh grade

6.5 Hours
Average amount of time per day that kids 8 to 18 spend connected to something electronic

8.5 Hours
Average amount of daily online activity time kids experience when multitasking is taken into account


When this generation enters the workforce, its computer skills will be superior to those of past generations. They will know how to find and manipulate information, and this group is particularly adept at analyzing images and visual data. Multimedia is no challenge to these kids; indeed, it's the only way to go. Children as young as 7 are learning how to embed audio and video files in text.

Netting It Out
The bottom line is that, with appropriate rules and guidance from parents, most kids who venture online will do just fine. Whether a child is vulnerable depends in part on his or her personality, whether they're involved in other (nonvirtual) activities, and whether the Internet is being used to connect with existing friends, family, and schoolmates instead of merely making idle chitchat with strangers.

"The jury is out in terms of big-picture impact," says Dave Greenfield, director of the Center for Internet Behavior and author of Virtual Addiction (New Harbinger, 1999). But he says there's no doubt there will be some effect. "Does trying to talk to someone as you're text messaging dilute interpersonal interactions? Does it remove the ability to be fully present--the light is on, but you're not really at home?"

Greenfield recalls one client who took away his daughter's cell phone because she refused to stop text messaging whenever her parents tried to introduce her to someone. "I really have to work hard to not let technology encroach, and I think teens are less conscious of the encroachment," he says.

Ultimately, Greenfield says, this is as much about our society as it is about any one child. "It's a statement our culture is making--that convenience, portability, and managing and extending our time are more important than the quality of human interaction," he says.

What's important is knowing when to turn technology off--how to say no. Or as the site Lifehacker puts it, "Geek to live, don't live to geek."

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About the Author(s)

Johanna Ambrosio

Tech Journalist

Johanna Ambrosio is an award-winning freelance writer specializing in business and technology. She has been a reporter and an editor in the computer industry for over 25 years, covering virtually every technology topic, starting with 'office automation' in the 1980s, as well as management issues including ROI and how to attract and retain talent. Her work has appeared online and in print, in publications including Application Development Trends, Government Computer News, Crain's New York Business, Investor's Business Daily, InformationWEEK, and the Metrowest Daily News. She formerly worked at Computerworld, for which she held various positions, including online director. She holds a B.S. in technical writing from Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, N.Y., now the Tandon School of Engineering of New York University. She lives with her husband in a Boston suburb. Johanna's samples of her work are at https://www.clippings.me/jambrosio.

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