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Children and the Internet

Children and the Internet
The debate on the use of internet has been ongoing for the longest time now. Many stake holders involved in this debate have been focusing on the positive and negative influence the internet would have especially on school going children. In this era of advanced technology, it’s almost mandatory that students acquire the knowledge on internet use since the curriculum is quickly transforming towards technology too. With wide spread use of tech-related gadgets in almost all activities, such as mobile phones, computers, play- stations and many others in day to day life, the question would be whether children should be allowed to use them? This research paper will explore both the benefits and the challenges associated with internet use among children. The aim is to identify whether internet as a communication, learning and entertainment platform should be embraced or banished.
Internet use has been linked with both beneficial and detrimental effects on the child development. Based on studies, it’s clear that the use of internet has provided a chance for children to acquire a wide range of knowledge through easy access to information compared to the past when information sources were quite limited. The internet also provides a perfect platform for the children to gain vital communication skills that in turn enhance social development. Psychology experts have identified a link between constructive use of internet and student performance in school particularly in language expressivity. The children, by visiting websites, access information on many issues which enhances their learning skills. The internet also makes learning an enjoyable experience since most websites contain graphics that effectively capture children’s’ imagination and creativity. This is important in stimulating the functioning of their brains and transforming them into effective learners. The process of acquiring the information from the internet is also vital in a child’s development in skills such as information evaluation, research techniques as well as work planning strategies. According to research carried out by Media Awareness Network in 2006, children with prowess in internet gaming demonstrated better levels of visual memory and pattern recognition as compared to those who did not. This according to experts in mental development in children has a positive impact in their ability to interpret graphical data and enhanced diagram visualization and interpretation. From data collected by Jennifer Bremmer from Chicago University; department of Child Psychiatry, up to 84%of parents interviewed, agreed that internet use has had a positive impact on their children’s school life and particularly in academics.81% of the respondents, said that their children acquired most of their information from the internet. Majority of those interviewed said they felt that without the internet their children would perform poorly. According to government budgetary allocations of the United States in 2000, $4 billion was dedicated for connecting students to internet, a clear indication of the government’s commitment towards use of technology in education.
The internet also gives access to more up dated information compared to books thus improving on their vocabulary in the offered curriculum and in the research projects. The `One Child One Laptop` project in Africa, is expected to give African children an opportunity to access world wide information and be able to effectively contribute their ideas on a world platform. This could also create a chance for them to earn a living as they mature since they can work on- line and link up with other people in the world.
Based on the scientific background information on stimulation and response, it can be conclusively deduced that the use of internet by growing children has a positive effect on their development. The prolonged use of computer while searching for information from the internet could improve the coordination patterns of eye and hand through the use of the mouse, keyboard and screen. Though no specific research has been done on this phenomenon, it’s scientifically proven that habits enhance brain development and the associated physical development.
The use of internet also has a social dimension. Antagonists on its use argue that it has replaced human interactions. On the other hand, the protagonists claim that with professional use, internet use can be a medium to enhance this interaction. The use of the chat rooms, email services and other communication platforms available on the internet, are believed to enhance social skills alongside communication skills. Social and culture exchanges among young children has been enhanced through the internet mailing facility and through the available social sites such as Face book and Twitter. The children get an opportunity to interact in educative and productive communication. A perfect example is the Spank Magazine, which gives a platform for world wide interactions on youth issues where any one can interact and communicate their ideas for free. Social studies analysts have shown that the use of internet by school going children in class work has a marked positive impact on their performance. This has been linked to the fun associated with learning using the internet. The use of internet also enhances cooperation and sharing of ideas among the children, a vital life skill. Studies have indicated improved performances in many pupils using internet as a learning tool and who initially had difficulties in using the conventional learning models. This in turn positively influences their attitude toward school works as among other reasons it gives the students a relatively independent environment for learning and interaction.
In today’s world, children and internet seem to be bound together. The internet has become a tool of entertainment. Research on internet use has shown that many children use it as a leisure tool to pursue amusement and enjoyment. The family set ups today are more individualized and physical interactions among children mostly at home is limited to a certain extent. Such children resort to internet for companionship. Through the process of enjoying themselves, they are subconsciously benefiting by acquiring other skills such as analyzing skills, creative and critical thinking leading to improved understanding of concepts Internet also provides children with physical impairment, an opportunity to find pleasure they may not acquire anywhere else due to their disabilities.
Negative Impacts
The internet has negative impacts on children if its use is not regulated. According to Miller, 2000, the internet has physical, social and cognitive downsides. Parents have reported cases of their children suffering from information fatigue syndrome. This is as a result of reading and analyzing excess amounts of data. It causes stress as one attempts to cope with these large amounts of information. This is characterized by diminished analytical powers, anxiety and incidences of self-doubt which may lead to one making inconsistent decisions. Due to excessive use of the internet, some children can not make a difference between the virtual and real world while others suffer socially to an extent of lacking the social skills necessary in the real world situations. Social life sphere of many children addicted to the internet has been irreversibly damaged due to easy access to some sites that influence their behavior to a large extent in a negative way. Some internet content such as violence, gambling, pornography and hate speech have been identified as leading influence on children’s behavior as they grow with some copying these behaviors and making them their lifestyles. A study carried out in 2000, by Scatlin, showed a relationship between this exposure and behavioral changes in child development. These children showed traits such as psychological trauma, fear, quick temper, below average academic performance, antisocial behavior, identity crisis, unrealistic life expectations, low self esteem and confusion. Studies indicate that children who involve in on-line gambling have problems paying debts later in life due to resulting addiction. Others resort to theft to satisfy their gambling gratification. Others miss school just to participate in gambling with exaggerated hopes of getting quickly rich. Several studies, have shown that exposure to sexually explicit content caused increased sexual stimuli in children and as they grew up leading to development of abnormal sexual behavior such as prostitution, bestiality, masturbation and rape. The internet has also exposed many children to pedophiles who take advantage of their innocence to exploit them sexually. Soliciting of sex online has been identified as a major threat to children using the internet. This comes in many forms such as being invited to participate in sexual talk or getting on-line requests to participate in sexual activities or give sexual information pertaining yourself to an adult. This is mostly reported to affect majority of children under the age of fifteen years. Violence as depicted in some computer games has been associated with violent tendencies in many a children who watch such games. Other incidences on the internet include bullying. Where one receives threats from anonymous writers or people they know. This behavior called cyber bullying may also be in form of malicious information about some one, gossip and also incidences of name calling. This usually arises when unsuspecting children, mainly adolescents involve in relationships on-line with strangers. An average of two hundred cases of child cyber crimes are reported annually with the most vulnerable children being those who spend a lot of their time on the internet. Most of these children usually exhibit immaturity and abusive backgrounds. Internet negatively affects the children’s social life since it may alter their perception on interactions and relationships. The continued interaction through services such as chat rooms, instant messaging and email to an extent eliminates the human feeling and connection associated with human contact in relationships, therefore making the world less realistic to the children. This only acts to negatively influence their social life as they become adults.
Over reliance on internet as a source of information by children causes some students to lack creativity in solving problems. At the same time, most of the information available on the internet is narrow in content or with scanty and unreliable sources. This reliance on the internet also decreases the demand of books in research work yet they provide more reliable information. Further more information found on the internet is usually uncontrolled and lawless. It’s not possible to check details on refer ability and therefore the children are exposed to information that is in discriminatory in terms of reality and reliability. According to James Collins, a Professor in writing at State University of New York, there is a link between poor performance in writing and continued use of the internet. He claims that plagiarism is high among those students who are used to the internet compared to those who do not. The informal language used by children when communicating with their friends over the internet has been traced in formal school work. This results in poor performance in studies.
Too much use of the internet may result in addiction as it creates a sense of unlimited control and power on the children. This could in turn cut the child from the normal setting of life that involves interacting with other people as opposed to over relying on electronic gadgets such as the computers. The addiction to the internet may also be described in other terms as problematic or compulsive internet use. When one is under this addiction, they tend to incline towards internet all the time to escape stressful situations. They also have the tendency of continued internet use even when with negative feelings. Over whelming evidence has indicated a connection between internet addiction and poor academic performance, poor relationships with other people, financial problems owing to the high cost of browsing and poor health mainly due to the long hours spent on the internet that could lead to sleep deprivation. The most addictive segments of this internet are chat rooms, on-line games, gambling and pornographic sites. Most adolescents with the developmental challenges associated with this stage of growth have been found to look for solace in the internet which eventually becomes an addiction. In a Study carried out in Taiwan, among school going- children, it was found out that alcoholism was rampant and the alcoholics were also found to be internet addicts. Internet games have to some extent almost replaced physical play in children. This is detrimental to both physical and mental development. The children grow inactive and this increases chances of diseases and other body defects. Exposure to computers for long hours is also associated with many of the visual disorders. A research carried out by U.S. health experts on the effects of internet browsing and watching television indicated that children with such habits had the highest incidences of smoking, obesity and hypertension. From the study done by the U.S. National Institutes of health and the California Pacific Medical Centre over three decade duration, to find out the effect f media exposure on the health of adolescents, it was conclusively found that80%of the studies had health problems.
From the analysis explained above either for or against the use of internet by young children, its clear that, like a coin, the debate has, two sides from which to analyse.The advantages of internet use by children as outlined above indicate the value of this technological platform. On, the other hand, the challenges associated, are also weighty. It’s therefore the prerogative of all parents to ensure that if their children access the internet, all cautionary measures are in place to avoid the negative impacts linked to uncontrolled internet use.

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