Sounds provocative doesn’t it? But, as bold as this may be, the truth is- we live, and parent, in an online-saturated world, where children can be closed off from authentic relationships by a simple click on a computer keyboard, or tap on a touch screen. Sure, Twitter and Facebook (to name a few social networks) make life fun, and easy to connect with others, but what about the drawbacks?
In this age of computers, more and more children have turned to the internet instead of playing outdoors. Research showed that 93% of teens use the internet, 81% of which surf websites; another 55% use an online social networking site; and 49% admit to playing online games (Pew Internet, 2007).
Not surprisingly, children who look up to teens and adults become part of the “internet epidemic” – getting hooked on social networks and online games, abandoning playground equipment, and redefining playtime in this present age. Conflicting views on the pros and cons of these developments lead parents to turn to child development studies and parenting tips to answer the basic question – Allowing Kids To Use Internet: Should We or Shouldn’t We?
Opening the Doors.
Let’s go back to the basics. Social networking sites were built for the primary purpose of communication. True to its promise, Twitter and Facebook have gained worldwide success in connecting people – with nearly 700 million registered users in Twitter (Twitter, Huffington Post, eMarketer, 2014) and 500 million active users in Facebook (Kissmetrics).
As a child becomes part of this communication network, consequently, he or she opens the doors to a world that influences the way people think and feel, or speak and act. They are exposed to different cultures, principles, and ideologies. So as parents, the basic question is … Is my child ready for this?
Opening the doors of the internet for your child is like opening Pandora’s Box. That is if your child is not developmentally ready. Remember that as a child opens his or her internet door to the world, they not only welcome others in, but also expose themselves outward. Parents should therefore be aware of potential threats.
I, Me and Myself.
A danger, according to Dr. Larry Rosen, is that teens who use facebook often show more narcissistic tendencies. This means that the more they share their views, photos, and activities on Facebook, the more they long for public attention, leading to excessive preoccupation with personal adequacy, power, prestige, and vanity.
Lack of internet censorship poses a serious threat too. Studies show that children who watch violent shows tend to develop a violent behavior and seclude their lives in isolation. Furthermore, aggressive children tend to have fewer friends and more likely to become bullies (because of aggression) or be bullied (because of isolation). While some online games may be violent, fortunately, there are also non-violent educational games for children that can build vocabulary skills, number skills, decision-making skills, creative expression, and eye-hand coordination.
Knowing that even in a secure residential playground, bullying does happen, what more in the cyberworld where there is no one watching? The devastating effects of cyberbullying on a kid’s development include anger, sadness, feeling hurt, embarrassment and fear. As a result, a victim resorts to an antisocial behavior as a means of coping with the strain, or even worse, developing suicidal tendencies.
Computer addiction could lead to damage in eyesight and body, which is extremely harmful for children’s development. But worse than physical damage, studies show that adolescents who demonstrated internet addiction scored higher for obsessive-compulsive behavior, depression, generalized and social anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, introversion, and other maladaptive behaviors.
The Good, Old Way.
Although the internet has been proven to be beneficial – opening avenues for socialization, information dissemination, and creative expression – parents must advocate for a balance between the virtual and real world life of their children. For starters, why not start a residential playground in your area? This will invite other kids to join in, thus expanding your child’s circle of friends. Sleepovers allow time for your child to share common interests with friends. Biking is fun and helps your child to be physically-fit, while walks in the park have been proven relaxing. Board games work well in building stronger family bonds.
Even educators attest that the best learning materials, especially for little children; do not come from photos or videos. Mock-up tools, cooking utensils, kids’ playground equipment, and other concrete objects are still best in developing occupational skills.
Parents are responsible for raising their children in a safe and nurturing environment. But this doesn’t mean restraining your child at home. After all, home-use internet exposes your child to an even wider and uncontrolled environment. Whether inside or outside your home, allow your child to expand their horizon, but never fall short on guidance and supervision.
After all that you provide for your child’s learning and recreation, whether residential playground equipment or a computer, don’t forget that the most important component is YOU. As a parent, no equipment can offer the caring and nurturing environment that only you can provide.
What steps are you taking, as a parent, to intentionally provide growth opportunities for your children that do not include the internet?