How Does Internet Use Affect Children Today?

By Edward Mercer

The Internet plays an important role in children's academic and social lives.
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Ubiquitous in contemporary society, widespread Internet use is a relatively recent phenomenon. In that short time, the Internet has dramatically transformed communication and the social, academic and economic interactions that take shape around information exchanges. The effects of such a deep transformation are still debated and many findings on the social impacts of Internet use remain inconclusive, yet an emerging body of studies suggests profound academic, social and psychological impacts, particularly in the case of children who have used the Internet since infancy.

Social Effects

Socially, Internet use is a double-edged sword for children. On one hand, the technology facilitates communication with friends and family in faraway places and regular contact with peers in the same area. On the other, time spent on the Internet is time not spent physically interacting with elders and peers. While Internet use can build written and multimedia communication and interpretation skills, children also risk not developing physical communication skills, such as the capacity to express physical affection or the emotional intelligence necessary to interpret gestures and facial expressions.

Academic Effects

Children in the Internet age enjoy easy access to an astonishing collection of digital information, including everything from online references to image and audio collections. This information can enrich and facilitate academic tasks like research and sharing work, yet can also be overwhelming to many children. Particularly in the case of early childhood education -- when children lack a refined capacity to evaluate the trustworthiness of information they view online -- the sheer amount of sometimes contradictory information on the Internet can be misleading, confusing and stressful to young researchers.

Physical Effects

Although the social and psychological impacts of Internet use on children are still widely debated, the physical impacts are more clear. As with other sedentary tasks like watching television, Internet use can replace healthy physical activities like sports and outdoor exercise, leading to health effects like obesity and poor muscular development. Like the negative social and psychological impacts, however, physical health risks are most pronounced in cases of excessive use. Limited Internet use can actually contribute to a healthy development of hand-eye coordination.

Psychological Effects

The psychological impacts of Internet use among children are perhaps the most debated. Some studies suggest an increase in loneliness and feelings of isolation, particularly among preteens and teenagers beginning to establish lasting social relationships, yet follow-up studies have also found that these impacts decrease over time as Internet users learn to use the technology more effectively. In very extreme cases of overuse, Internet addiction can even become a psychological disorder in children, usually coupled with behaviors like neglecting social ties and being dishonest about time spent or activities conducted on the Internet.