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Did you know that 1 in 3 internet users are children? What are the implications of this? UNICEF recently released The State of the World's Children 2017: Children in a Digital World report and there are tons of amazing facts and analysis. There is a lot to take in, especially regarding the lack of internet access for many children, along with the gender gaps in internet use. While these issues are insanely important, there is another issue when it comes to internet use. Simply put, what are the long-term implications of internet use for an entire generation?
There are a multitude of potential problems when it comes to children internet use, including both physical and emotional. For one, cyberbullying is a major issue amongst young individuals, along with the misuse of private information. Giving away addresses, phone numbers, pictures, and other intimate information can result in serious criminal issues. Why do these problems persist? Young people are still developing and frankly, don't have the mental experience or development to face many of the questions the internet asks. Psychology Today breaks it down like this...
"There is, however, a growing body of research that technology can be both beneficial and harmful to different ways in which children think. Moreover, this influence isn’t just affecting children on the surface of their thinking. Rather, because their brains are still developing and malleable, frequent exposure by so-called digital natives to technology is actually wiring the brain in ways very different than in previous generations. What is clear is that, as with advances throughout history, the technology that is available determines how our brains develops."
Jim Taylor of Psychology Today doesn't necessarily take a stance on whether the increase in technology and internet use is "bad" per say, but he does clearly state that young people are influenced by the high level of technology we now have. So how can society make sure that young people are as equipped as possible to handle overexposure to internet use? Many schools are offering seminars to both children and parents. Furthermore, psychologists are now studying not only the effects of internet use, but also developing protocols for schools to combat internet issues. Also, mental health experts are now beginning to work with clients that are exhibiting symptoms of anxiety, paranoia, or depression that is related to internet use. With time, health experts as a whole will begin to understand how to work with young people that are exhibiting mental health symptoms in relation to internet use (along with other technology based activities).
The fact is, the internet is not going away. In fact, internet use is only going to become more available for individuals, so safe internet use is about minimizing risks rather than deleting it altogether. Another major problem many countries are facing is predatory behavior from older individuals towards the younger population. The UNICEF study found that in Malaysia (a well-connected society), 80% of victims raped by an internet acquaintance were children 10-18. This means that predators are using the internet to take advantage of young individuals that are struggling to catch up with the fast-paced development of technology. Like any public health initiative, more and more digital and physical events need to take place that helps bring children up to speed on ways to stay safe. Similar to learning to look both ways when crossing the street, children have the ability to learn how to stay safe on the internet. Having to "quicken" brain development is many ways is a necessity due to individuals preying on the fact that a young person is not yet equipped to put up boundaries against individuals that are criminal in nature.
The fact is, internet use is not all bad. There are so many positives when it comes to children using the internet. Unlimited access to education, family members, and mental health treatment help result in a smarter and well-off society. But when a situation does arise, the brain can take some serious damage. Of course, the results of cyberbullying and physical abuse as a result of internet use can cause psychological damage, but there is also damage in relying on the internet instead of developing meaningful relationships at a young age. As a society, if children don't learn how to interact with the people around them, they will then struggle later in life when they are finding work, going to college, or developing intimate relationships. With that being said, there are potential positives to internet use that eliminates the lack of in-person relationships being created, but this research is new in nature. Studies have been done around the impact internet use has on social outcomes, but with little clarity, mostly due to the slow pace of societal change.
"On the one hand, time spent online is time not spent elsewhere, including participating in social activities and communicating with family and friends. On the other hand, the Internet facilitates communication with geographically distant family and friends, and makes it easier to communicate frequently with those nearby."
So while using the internet may prevent a young individual from creating meaningful relationships in person, it does allow for long distance communication. With time, we will see how the differences between talking to someone on a screen, rather than in person, affects society as a whole.
Overall, what do you think about this issue? Do you personally have any tips for internet self-care? What are your thoughts regarding talking to someone online vs. talking to them in person? Make sure to check out the full report, as well as the other sources cited, to learn even more about the digital world and how children are becoming a major part of it, for better or for worse.
American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2003/12/jackson.aspx.
“How Technology Is Changing the Way Children Think and Focus.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/201212/how-technology-is-changing-the-way-children-think-and-focus.
“The State of the World's Children 2017.” UNICEF, 11 Dec. 2017, www.unicef.org/sowc2017/.