This paper focuses on current studies on children and the Internet in historical context noting the main themes in various research papers, books and media research by summarizing both the pros and cons surrounding children’s use of computer and the internet, and on which factors society should focus when making important decisions about the role of the Internet technology in children’s lives. Is access to the Internet for children important or not? What is the purpose of access and who need the access? How parents can assure that access to the Internet for their children leads to positive and innovative learning experience at school and at home? As the Internet becomes must in our daily lives, it is necessary to understand how the growth and the development of our child is dependent on the use of the Internet and the computer technology. Parents should determine what their children should learn from the Internet and take actions which are necessary to steer them away from bad influences of the same.
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Due to children’s passion for computers and internet, huge funds are being spent to give them access to computers and Internet in school, at home and in dorms. Now a day’s near about each and every school is equipped with computer systems and large number of children have access to the Internet at their home. But is the Internet and computer technology improving children’s lives? This paper examines not only how children are affected by this emerging era of computers and the Internet but also explores how the use of Internet is affecting children’s development by all means and different ways to overcome problems from these critical situations.
People usually agree that, for children to enter socially and politically in this new competing world, they must get a certain level of comfort and knowledge using computers. National polls also indicate the necessity for providing access to computers and Internet for children to enable them learn computer skills and improve their education. In most of the surveys parents and children believe computers and the Internet as an information highway, despite worried about exposure to inappropriate content like commercial, sexual or violent contents. Some Parents also believes that the Internet can help children in their homework. They consider that children without Internet access have a lot disadvantages compared to those with access to internet.
Thus, children with access to computers and the Internet at home are growing. The spread of the Internet access has been described as nine time faster than that of radio and four times faster than that of personal computers and also three times faster than that of television. Also the Internet connections are rapidly increased from 15% to 52% over the five year periods from 1996 to 2000. In addition to this, in USA Congress has made a national priority to give access to the Internet at school for all their nation’s children. Stating that the use of such technology can help students to develop and maintain a technologically literate citizen. For this Congress has established many acts like Educate America act, The Improving America’s school act etc. As a result, the percentage of schools with computer with Internet increased from 35% to 95%.
On the other hand, children spend most of their time in computer activities at home. Such excessive and unmonitored use of computers combined with use of other screen technologies like television can place children at harmful risk on their social development. Too much time in front of computer can deviate their mind from playing sports and other social activities which are beneficial and essential to child development. In addition, also there are chances for children to get exposed to some violent and sexual inappropriate contents beyond both at school and at home internet.
Currently, excessive use of computers and the Internet among children is not typical. National survey indicate that children ages from 2 to 17 spent on an average about 34 minutes per day on computers at home. Usage is high, however especially older children have reported spending at-least 4 hours a day on internet. Children who spend high amount of time on computers and on the Internet most likely get apart from activities required for healthy development and increasing risk of obesity and could expose them to harmful impact on their eyes. Although, the number of studies suggests that the risk of excessive computer use can be significant.
To reduce increased risk of obesity and several other harmful effects because of extensive use of internet, the “American Academy of Pediatrics” suggested parents about limiting children’s time spending on the Internet should not exceed one to two hours per day. In addition to this time extent, they also suggested that various activities children perform on computers and on the Internet can also affect their psychological and intellectual will-being. Children can use computer and the Internet for a wide range of purposes. For example, they can choose to get engage in activities across a broad range of possibilities like making projects, creating cartoons, learning different basic computer tools such as painting, power-point etc.
Video games introduces children to the computer technology and the internet world. Computer games have long been the most common activity for children. Online games make children adapt and be comfortable with diverse concepts of computing. This is mainly important for girls who typically not interested in high technology as much as boys. In concern with online games, boys spent much more time than girls on computers. however, now a days the computer applications has widened, as a result girls also spent time on computers as often as boys do. Children surf the Internet mostly for music and for pictures of their favorite movie stars, and also for use of email to exchange messages among their friend.
However, the effect of computer and Internet usage, vary significantly by activity children perform and quality of content the child handles. For example, the experiences of children playing offensive games on computer are different from children playing educational and puzzle games online and the experiences of children using emails to exchange messages with family and friends are quite different from children using emails to chat with strangers in MUDs and chat rooms.
These games vary diversely in concern with type of content and behavioral effects. Some games have been shown to have high educational value. For example SimCity. By playing this game children can develop their problem solving skills and visualization skills . But, online games like Doom 95 and counter-strike, expose children to extreme violence, possibly exposing them to aggressive behavior. However, studies suggest that the use of computers for playing games has least significant impact on children’s behavior, on their friendships and on family relationships. It can also enhance certain visual or graphical intelligence skills like to visualize 3D images and to track multiple images of different colors and shapes simultaneously. Such skills can be important building blocks, for children in computer literacy and can be very useful for children to succeed in their life.
In addition to the negative impact of online games, studies have shown that the more the time children spend on playing computer games and online games, the poorer is their performance in school exams. It also show that many children who play online games routinely, skip their homework to play games and many student admitted that their online game playing habits are often responsible for their academic degradation. Children can pick up bad language and behavior from other people while playing online and it can make children vulnerable to online threats.
According to new study published in February 2012, children spending excessive time on playing online games may show impulsive behavior and have attention problem. According to this study attention problems were defined as difficulty engaging in to reach a goal.
Next to games, most frequently found activity at home computer and on the Internet by children is school assignments. The use of computers at home is assumed to have a positive effect on children’s learning. An evidence shows that use of home computer has slightly better academic performance but such studies failed to control other factors. A study shows that children who participated in the computer program to get knowledge in mathematics and computer knowledge were better able to score higher in school tests as compared to non-participants.
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The dark side of this is many of the educational sites on the Internet are being obscure by the commercial sites. In that, many sites are tied to some interesting television shows and attractive toy companies. By using an unique feature of internet, companies are able to integrate their advertisement on such web pages with their brand names or brand logos encouraging children to become their consumer at very early age. According to an industry report, teenagers spent approximately $161 million online in recent years. In addition to this, much more information which is not intended for the children is readily available on the Internet such as bomb making procedures, and sexually explicit images and videos. It give rise to exposure to inappropriate contents and child abuse. Although, studies shows that children who viewed more cartoons and other animation type films improved their visualization skills and academic performance. 
The extended use of the Internet to get linked with virtual world of multi user domains as MUDs, chat rooms and multiplayer games tends children to get in loneliness and depression. In this virtual world, children assume multiple identities and starts interacting with strangers. So, no one cannot predict whether a child is really communicating with a real person or with a simulator.
Sometimes children are curious about sexuality and sexually explicit materials. Children may seek to establish new relationships outside their family as they are curious about use of Internet access to actively seek out such materials. So many of the sex-offenders target children and exploits these characteristics and children need. Some children also may get attracted to online offenders , although not technically, may also be dangerous. Apart from this, children also make online payments because of some attractive ads to get access to those contents. However, because of such activities children’s and ultimately their parent’s personal and financial details may get hacked by some third party pirate and children are unaware of this.
An executive director of a non-profit group named GetNetWise which aimed at improving online safety says that parents should talk with their children about online privacy. Such discussion can address many aspects of online privacy from the use of social networking sites and the disclosure of personal information. Parents should remind their child not to provide their names or other personal details online without asking them. Parents also should alert their child to common tricks like flashing pop-up ads that may be dangerous to their computer and on clicking them these pop-ups may installs spywares and malicious software into children’s computer to steal their personal information.
To help parents and adults protect their children from such violent content, many steps have been initiated like helping children be safe and savvy, efforts to protect children from inappropriate materials on Internet that is Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act in 1998 passed by congress, efforts to promote computer literacy etc. Many companies have created several filtering and blocking tools for parents to keep their children away from online violent and inappropriate contents. However, the study found that half of the children using Internet at home have no parental restrictions on amount of time spent online and type of content they access. So it is highly recommended for parents and teachers working with children that they should limit the time for children to access Internet and also supervise for the contents their children exposes to.
Schools, Universities and community organizations should also provide a guideline to parents, teachers and also to children to strengthen themselves in their critical understanding and always teach children in making right choice about their computer use. Teacher should encompasses a more active role for children that allows themselves to use computers to create good applications, to invent new technologies and to design innovative models and not to just receive information passively from computer screen.
To reduce the potential threats of excess use of computers, as a next step, guidelines for how long, children of different ages should use Internet each day would be helpful. State and local education agencies should bear some age appropriate guidelines for children’s computer literacy. Such guidelines should be provided to all elementary and secondary teachers and also incorporated into technology centers.
Thus, computer technology is a vast and rapidly growing field. The government should ensure that schools should be well equipped with latest hardware, updated high-quality software, and well-trained mentors, resulting children to learn the required skills to live, survive and work efficiently in the twenty-first century. Although, the task is already accomplished to a certain level, appropriate monitoring and controls must be put to practice so that there is a very little abuse of the Internet technology among children and it helps in overall development of not only of their lives but also the future of the nation.
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