The Internet:  it has become our lifeblood, our savior from the depths of our own minds. The refuge from ourselves; the place we go when we are alone.

Children especially are ensnared in the clutches of the Internet, simply because that is all they have known and grown up with. This is because the children of today have lost the ability to entertain themselves. But are these children of today smarter or more social because of this readily available connection to the entire world? That is what will be discussed in this journey through today’s generation and their technological know-how. Today’s children are not smarter or more social because of the Internet.

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Social networking is just one type of service that exacts a level of trust and thrives on personal disclosure of information.” This is what Jarice Hanson said in her book about cell phones. Hanson is Professor of Communication at the University of Massachusetts.  Social networking allows for the passing of information between people, showing pictures to your “followers”, and writing messages to your friends. This sociality of people can be good, but too much time is being spent online by kids and adults alike. According to Stephen Currie in his book about cyberbullying, as of 2015, about eighty-five percent of Americans between the ages of thirteen and seventeen have at least one social networking account. So much time is being spent on social media by kids that, according to Chelsea Clinton and James P. Steyer in their news article about the internet and children, “too much hypertext and multimedia content has been linked in some kids to limited attention span, lower comprehension, poor focus, greater risk for depression, and diminished long-term memory.” Chelsea Clinton is the daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and she wrote this article with James P. Steyer, who is an American child advocate, a civil rights attorney, and a professor. Together they wrote the article for CNN. This much connection to other people can be good. It means you can share things online, instantly there for people to see it. You can send messages to someone, and they will get them right away. You can even create an online society to be able to sell things, to connect with people who have a similar hobby, and connect with people you work with. While these things are definitely a plus for children and adults, people were not made to constantly be bombarded by social media and other people’s sometimes “random” posts.“ The explosive growth of social media, smartphones and digital devices is transforming our kids’ lives in school and at home.

“Research tells us that even the youngest of our children are migrating online, using tablets and smartphones, downloading apps.” Is this transformation good? In some cases, it really is good, maybe even great. But, “some of the most dangerous features about posting any personal information online on the Internet reflect matters of trust that someone has when using a service, and the control they use or lose when they post that information”. Children who don’t have the proper inhibition to control their Internet posts should not be able to use these online services, such as Facebook. “Consumer Reports reported last that more than 7.5 million American kids under the age of thirteen have joined Facebook, which technically requires users to be thirteen years old to open an account”. That is a huge statistic, considering that at least 7.5 million kids have lied online about their age. Without this online carefulness, kids could get into dangerous relationships with adults, which could result in a kidnapping. Another dangerous thing about underage involvement in the Internet is children in early stages of brain development. Over ninety percent of American two-year-olds have an online history, and fifty percent of five-year-olds have everyday contact with a tablet or computer. Children in early development stages should be playing outside or learning something productive. The effects of media and technology use on children’s brains are only beginning to be researched, but the data is serious. Children’s brain development stages are incredibly important but the teenage years are also incredibly important for discovering limits and abilities. The Internet’s insensitivities to privacy can alter this developmental phase, and not in a good way.

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Another thing that can alter this developmental phase is violent video games and television shows. There are a large number of people that can play violent games and watch violent shows, but there is a percentage of the population that cannot do this because they are affected by the game’s graphic images or the movie’s sexual themes.

In the 1990s, as a reaction to an explosion of television programming of increasingly quality for kids, Congress passed the Children’s Television Act. There was universal recognition that given all the time kids were spending in front of a television, the nation had a collective responsibility to offer positive, educational programming with limited commercials. We are at, arguably, an even more important crossroads when it comes to digital media and technology”.

“Video games first emerged in the 1970s, but it was during the 1990s that violent games truly came of age. Starting in the late 1980s video game producers experimented with what the public would accept in video games”. This quote was directly from a book written about violent video game effects on children by Craig Anderson, Douglas Gentile, and Katherine Buckley. Anderson is a distinguished professor of Psychology at Iowa State University and is widely regarded as the foremost expert on the effects of violent video games. Gentile is a developmental psychologist and is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Iowa State University and Director of Research for the National Institute on Media and the Family. Buckley is completing her Ph.D. in Psychology at Iowa State University. They wrote the book, called Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents. This book is basically a very large but thorough study about children, teens, and the effects of violent video games on their social lives, grades, and minds. “Since 2004, the gaming industry has grown even larger, with revenues in 2005 approximating seven billion dollars, and a new burst in what is called the ‘interactive entertainment’ era”. So many people are playing video games every day. There are many good, positive games out there, but a large percentage of video games are violent, with sex and blood everywhere within the game. While there are many people who are affected by these games, there will always be people who can play violent games often and walk away unscathed. In the early 1990s after arcades were popular, owned consoles began increasing in popularity. “In the mid-1980s, children averaged four hours a week playing video games, including time spent playing at home and in arcades”. The longer kids spend on video games and television, the worse their grades get. We are living in an age where technology and screens are everywhere; you cannot get away from it all.

“Screen time (tv and video game time combined) was a significant negative predictor of grades. That is, the more time children spend in front of a screen the worse their school performance. We (the authors) also found evidence that amount and content of media may have different effects. The amount of screen time affects school performance, but not aggressive behavior, whereas the violent content of media affects aggressive behavior, but not school performance”.

Speaking of aggressive behavior, nothing screams violence, whether it be physical or verbal than bullying and cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is a mix of the words cyber, meaning online, and bullying. Cyberbullying involves students bullying other students or teachers by using social media and other websites. Cyberbullying is essentially harassment, ranging in offense from the misdemeanor to high-level felony. “Growing up in modern society is already difficult enough without bringing police powers to bear on students who are not behaving exactly as they should”. Police are always helpful. There are and always will be cases where they need to get involved, but sometimes the children or teens in question are just trying to find their limits. “Children try things out, test limits, and seldom pay much attention to the possible consequences of their actions. Most students who are accused of cyberbullying are not horrible human beings who need punishment through the justice system”. The more children and teens use the Internet and social media, the more prevalent cyberbullying might become. The more prevalent cyberbullying becomes, the less we can use social media and the Internet. But with the rising popularity of social media, the harder it’s going to be to get rid of cyberbullying.

“The last few decades have seen an enormous change in how bullying of all kinds is perceived. Not that long ago, many adults dismissed bullying as an ordinary part of the experience of growing up. Students often were actively discouraged from reporting incidents of bullying. Some children who were victims of harassment were blamed for being too weak to defend themselves”.

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Nowadays, however, kids have committed suicide because of all forms of bullying. We take cyberbullying more seriously because of these suicides. Right now, eighty percent of Law Enforcement officers need additional cyberbullying training. Eighty percent! This is why we need schools to enforce rules and laws about cyber bullying. Sadly, “given such limited resources, schools cannot devote time, energy and personnel to investigating and punishing bullying that takes place outside of school”. Though this quote applies to outside of school, school officials still need to punish and investigate these incidents when they are inside of the school. “Schools may be liable if the school administration knows that one student is harassing another and does nothing about it”. Schools need to have the budget and the personnel to fight cyberbullying to the best of its ability.

“The first line of defense, of course, consists of schools. Teachers, administrators, coaches, and counselors must all be vigilant about making sure that bullies are caught, stopped, and punished. Parents, too, must closely monitor the behavior of their children to ensure that they are neither being bullied nor taking part in the harassment of others. And students themselves must be encouraged to come forward if they are being harassed. Bullying thrives in the shadows”.

Many teens and children have witnessed cyberbullying, about eighty-eight percent, to be exact. Eighty-plus percent of teens in the USA say that cyberbullying is easier to get away with than normal bullying. This is just another reason to have less social media in our lives. Social media is a big reason that we have cyberbullying. Information is also stored on the Internet, so whatever someone posts is there for everyone to see and it will always be there. “The effects of cyberbullying are more severe(than traditional bullying) because wider audiences can be reached through the Internet and material can be stored online, resulting in victims reliving denigrating experiences more often”. This goes to back to a child’s inhibition and caution when online. Mr. Buerkle, Sweet Grass County High’s superintendent, thinks that kids under the age of ten should only have Internet access with supervision. This is a very good idea. When children have someone guiding them, they tend to make better choices. Parents are in a powerful position over kids. A safety measure is setting limits on the frequency and matter of online media.  No matter what, kids need to be watched carefully when using social media, the television, and video games. If this can happen, there is potential for the Internet to, when being used correctly, bring parents and kids together to talk about the child’s friends, their posts, and the child’s conversations with other people.

The main points of this paper are as follows: effects of social media, time spent online, violent video games, and cyberbullying. There needs to be a global conversation about the Internet because it is destroying relationships all over the place. From programs that let you spy on other people’s texts to online scams to hacked programs that steal millions of dollars from innocent people all over the United States, the effects of the Internet and social media could be devastating unless managed properly. The Internet is changing kids’ brains in bad ways, and it is changing the way they talk to each other. 

Nickolas Pravecek

Sweet Grass County High School
Computer Engineering

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The Internet: Are Children Smarter or More Social Because of It?

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