When I was 12, my family got our first computer. I was among the first of my friends to have the internet. It was slow. In fact, it was slower than just slow; it was snail-pace slow. A picture took about a minute to download. Today, children and teens have high-speed internet at their fingertips and more gadgets than ever before. That has led to new issues caregivers never had to face in the past.
Some of the issues that have cropped up as technology use increased among children include sexting (sexually explicit text messages or instant messages), cyberbullying and even addiction. A British article about teens’ tech usage quoted Philippa Grogan, 16, as saying “I’d rather give up, like, a kidney than my phone. How did you manage before? Carrier pigeons? Letters? Going round each others’ houses on BIKES?” The article highlighted ongoing research on technology’s impact on our lives, conducted by PEW. Some of the findings for U.S young people include:
- 75% of all teenagers (and 58% of 12-year-olds) now have a mobile phone.
- Half of all texters send 50 or more texts a day; one in three send 100.
- More than 80% of phone-owning teens also use them to take pictures (and 64% to share those pictures with others).
- 73% use social networking sites, mostly Facebook – 50% more than three years.
Technology may be making the period of adolescence easier, as it’s a time of “an enhanced need for self-presentation, or communicating your identity to others, and also self-disclosure – discussing intimate topics,” says Professor Patti Valkenburg, of the University of Amsterdam’s Centre for Research on Children, Adolescents and the Media. Young people are able to carry out these needs through their gadgets, which largely offer a sense of disconnect between real-world and virtual-world.
While technology may be a tool of expression, recent research highlights the effect of chronic use in teens. In a study to be published this October, 1,041 teens in China were assessed for pathological internet usage, as well as anxiety and depression. While no link was found between anxiety and chronic internet use, the researchers found that teens who used the internet pathologically were twice as likely to develop depression as teens who didn’t.
Also worrying is the link between the internet and sex. 3.5 million searches were scanned between February 2008 and July 2009 in a study of webpage visits. During that time period, children’s top 10 search terms were 1. YouTube, 2. Google, 3. Facebook, 4. Sex, 5. MySpace, 6. Porn, 7. Yahoo, 8. Michael Jackson, 9. Fred (YouTube star) and 10. eBay. What often doesn’t accompany children’s searches for ‘sex’ and ‘porn’ is discussion at home and school surrounding sexuality, sexual expression and appropriateness. Unfortunately, there have been increasing incidences of children and teens using the technology at their disposal to record and disseminate pornography.
Talking to Kids and Tweens about Social Media and Sexting
Cyber-bullying (cyberbullying, online bullying) is the use of electronic information and communication devices such as e-mail, instant messaging, text messages, mobile phones, pagers and defamatory websites to bully or otherwise harass an individual or group through personal attacks or other means, and it may constitute a computer crime. – Science Daily
Unfortunately, the bullying of today is more devastating than in the past. The major reason is that through technology, information/rumours can be sent to many more people in a shorter period of time. And unfortunately, there is now an established link between cyberbullying and depression and suicide.
Surfing the Web should not take the place of other important activities, including homework, playing outside, or spending time with friends. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting total screen time in front of a TV or computer to no more than 1 to 2 hours a day for children older than 2 years. – American Academy of Pediatrics
Other tips include:
- Surf the Web with your children.
- Put the computer in a room where you can monitor your children.
- Use tracking software to keep track of where your children have been on the Web. However, nothing can replace supervision.
- Install software or services that can filter or block offensive Web sites and material. Be aware, however, that many children are smart enough to find ways around the filters. Also, you may find that filters may be more restrictive than you want.
- Find out what the Internet use policies are at your child’s school.
- Limitations on content should decrease as your child ages
Like it or not, technology is here to stay. It’s an integral part of many of our lives and makes daily functioning easier and more versatile. However, we must remain aware of the dark side to technology use and how we can safeguard the children in our care. Discussion surrounding self-worth as well as safe internet use is integral to this new generation of the tech-obsessed.