The Internet is becoming popular by both adults and children as an accurate and reliable information source. A survey by the National Center for Educational Statistics revealed that approximately 94% of children aged between three and eighteen had Internet access within the comfort of their homes in 2018 (‘Children’s Internet Access’). 88% of this population segment had access through a personal computer, while 6% browsed the Internet using smartphones (‘Children’s Internet Access’, para. 1). The study further revealed that only 6% of this specific populace lacked Internet access (Children’s Internet Access, para. 1). Through the Internet, minors currently obtain a substantial supply of data and interaction opportunities. However, despite the benefits of this media, Diomidous et al. highlight the actual dangers and risks associated with children’s Internet exploitation without parental supervision (67). Some of these effects include the likelihood of viewing inappropriate content, cyberbullying, poor sleeping patterns, and poor social behaviors. This paper contains a comprehensive analysis of the benefits and risks of Internet use among children and the measures various stakeholders can implement to safeguard minors against the drawbacks linked to this technology.
Gains Attributed to Internet Use by Children
As indicated earlier, Internet use is currently a normal aspect of life for both adults and children. Youths of various ages are increasingly becoming active consumers of this technology. Through its exploitation, minors can derive several benefits, both academically and socially. First, Van Deursen and Helsper associate internet use among kids with significant improvements in the coordination between the eye and arm (2334). This kinesiology benefit is achieved by engaging in various online educational games available for children.
Second, this innovation facilitates accessibility to crucial educational resources. The internet provides a wide pool of information that is consumable to children as well as adults. Many online services provide them with access to current events coverage, encyclopedias, libraries, and other appropriate materials (Van Deursen and Helsper 2336). This, in turn, contributes to their school performance by allowing them to be up-to-date with the learned concepts.
Third, Internet use facilitates children’s capacities to connect and interact with people who are far apart geographically, for instance, family and friends and those within their region. This positively impacts their social interactions and relationships to a greater extent (Shin and Luin 1112). Fourth, Internet usage among young adults plays a crucial role in enhancing their creativity. Diomidous et al. support this viewpoint by arguing that this technology enhances creativity and nurtures it (66). These researchers posit that children can hone their adroitness through platforms such as YouTube and be motivated by others with similar skills. On the other hand, social media sites provide a platform for teenagers with expertise in singing, sports, or writing to share their talents and explore techniques and ideas.
Fifth, the Internet offers youths a medium for acquiring meaningful information and connecting them with study groups and other education systems; this, in turn, enhances learning efficiency. Social networking tools such as online discussion boards also provide academic institutions and learners with the opportunity to enhance class training methods (Diomidous et al. 66). They allow the integration of social media plugins, which foster interaction and sharing of information. Students may also benefit from online resources and tutorials disseminated through LMS and social networks. Furthermore, according to Diomidous et al., this innovation fosters improved language skills among children (67). These researchers support this viewpoint by positing that kids who interact with computers or the internet frequently, tend to develop improved language skills when playing games or reading (67). Therefore, this innovation contributes to the academic abilities of children.
Lastly, internet use among children has been linked to efficient and improved strategy development and problem-solving capabilities. Through online video games, the aforementioned skills are enhanced by getting the player to resolve complicated puzzles; this, in turn, encourages one to predominantly exercise one’s brain. Das et al. further indicate the importance of online video games in enhancing one’s cognitive capacities, including significant increases in mental rotation, visuospatial cognition, attention, and improving one’s capacity to overcome cognitive restrictions (5). Das et al. also underscore the impact of online video games in triggering natural positive aggression, prosocial deportments, and helping behaviors (6). Furthermore, this innovation has been associated with spatial and attention allocation skills, which fosters an individual’s thinking capacity or skills and concentration levels.
Risks Associated with Internet Use by Children
Despite the significant benefits associated with the Internet and its subsequent use among children, this innovation has been linked with several drawbacks and risks. First, Diomidous et al. link Internet access with a child’s likelihood of viewing inappropriate content (67). Diomidous et al. identify this particular aspect as a major risk factor linked to the exploitation of the above-mentioned technology (67). Nowadays, it is typical for websites to attach all kinds of advertisements to their web pages. Although this may not be deemed harmful to some extent, not all the adverts displayed on websites are perceived to be safe for minors. Diomidous et al. support this stance by arguing that internet access may expose teenagers to strong sexual, racist, and even political content online (66). This, in turn, can have a negative impact on their behavior, perception of others, and interactions with peers.
Second, in instances where children lack adequate parental supervision when browsing through various Internet-supported platforms, there is typically an increased probability of exposure to physical threats. During this technological era characterized by significant innovations, criminal activities are on a high. According to Machimbarrena et al., criminals may infiltrate the internet, utilize platforms such as chatrooms to contact innocent minors, and lure them into engaging in wrongful acts (6). A recent FBI report also highlighted the significant risks, particularly abduction, when browsing through various social media platforms during the pandemic era (Owaida). The report revealed that minors are at significant risk for encountering all forms of offenders online who may impersonate youths to entice their targets and kidnap them.
Third, the internet exposes kids to the danger associated with bullying. The risk of cyberbullying is intensified significantly among children who are frequent users of this innovation (Machimbarena et al. 7). Boniel-Nissim and Hagit associate cyberbullying with significant mental health effects, including low self-confidence, withdrawal from family, and spending a lot of time in solitude, as well as drug and alcohol abuse (178). Other impacts include high depression and anxiety rates, sleeping difficulties, increased suicidal thoughts and attempts, and increased school absenteeism.
Fourth, internet access presents the risk of providing personal data, which consequently affects their privacy. Children are usually susceptible to providing personal information such as passwords, phone numbers, email, or even home addresses online. Criminals can use this information to con or cause harm to them, their parents, or guardians. Fifth, kids may also be misled and pounded with extreme advertisements. Promoters on various social media platforms influence teenagers by exploiting their insecurities and making them feel bad about themselves. This can increase their likelihood of engaging in activities publicized in the adverts. Some of them may even participate in criminal activities to get funds to purchase items publicized by adverts on the internet to fit in social circles. A 2015 survey conducted by scholars at Pennsylvania State University uncovered that teenagers were more likely to delete Instagram posts within twelve hours of posting than adults (Children’s Internet Access 7). This study’s outcomes imply that youths attempt to make themselves look good by maintaining popular posts.
Sixth, Internet use has been linked to negative effects on a child’s social, psychological, and physical environment. According to Byrne and Patrick, it may trigger decreased physical activity, which may cause musculoskeletal disorders and obesity (40). Furthermore, early childhood growth emphasizes the importance of physical manipulation synchronized with social interaction and observation in promoting proper development. According to Diomidous et al., hands-on encounters are crucial in enhancing cause-and-effect interactions and conversations (43). Park and Kwon further argue that there is no proof that virtual manipulation can generate similar intellectual proficiencies and growth triggered by physical manipulation (6). In addition, adolescents who spend significant amounts of time with digital technology are likely to suffer from mental disorders, including violent behaviors, aggression, addiction, and depression. According to Park and Kwon, a positive correlation exists between internet addiction and depression (7). Boniel-Nissim and Hagit further associated Internet addiction with the likelihood of browsing through social media, gaming, and sexually gratifying websites (179). Excessive Internet use can also cause unhealthy and irregular sleeping patterns, which impact children’s eating habits, concentration levels, and overall health.
Ways to Protect Children on The Internet
Various approaches have been recommended to ensure safe internet use among children. First, Abdelmajeed suggests that guardians set time restrictions for children regarding the period spent on this technology and ensure that they adhere to the established limits (20). They should also limit inappropriate access to the internet while acknowledging kids’ burgeoning independence. Second, parents should learn how to use computers and browse the internet because, according to Yubero et al., this helps them comprehend the content and sites to be viewed by kids on the internet (90). Third, guardians should ensure that the computer is placed in an open and common area of the house to enhance the ease of monitoring minors’ online undertakings.
Fourth, teenagers should be educated on the unprecedented dangers associated with Internet usage. According to Yubero et al., this approach is crucial in increasing support and enthusiasm, mobilizing resources and knowledge, and stimulating self-discipline and action (92). Fifth, schools should offer educators opportunities to coach children on how to use the internet for searching for information and evaluating its credibility. Sixth, tech companies are encouraged to actively observe and expunge content that is considered harmful to minors. They should also develop hi-tech tools, such as up-to-date software programs and parental control software, which allow parents and tutors to restrict children’s access to specific websites (Machimbarrena et al. 8). Lastly, blocking and reporting online bullies and teaching kids how to protect themselves from ruffians is also a recommended approach.
From the above arguments, it is evident that Internet use among children is a topic with varying viewpoints among society members. Proponents of this technology highlight its efficiency in improving different aspects of children’s lives, including problem-solving skills, creativity, information access, and social interaction. The drawbacks associated with the above-mentioned innovation include cyberbullying and mental health disorders such as depression and addiction. To avert these effects, parents should set time restrictions, limit access to various websites, and block and report online bullies.
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