More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
The Internet: Tutor or Troublemaker?
6 October 2006
by Katie Gilbert, Psychology Today

Letting the kids snuggle up to the World Wide Web may not be as damaging as you think.

Porn, pedophiles, melting brain cells: A parent could fill a gigabyte of mental hard drive with concerns about kids and the Internet. But there is another side to the debate, one that explores the redeeming aspects of adolescent Web inundation.

To find out more about the true nature of a child's relationship with the Internet, Linda Jackson, a psychology professor at Michigan State University, organized the HomeNetToo project. She and a group of researchers wanted to know what would happen when low-income households, with children between the ages 10 and 16, were given a computer with Internet access. (All of these homes had been without the Web until this point.) Would access to the World Wide Web be abused or constructively used?

Over the course of 16 months, researchers monitored the children's time spent on the Internet, along with other areas such as academic performance?measured by GPA and standardized test scores. Across both genders, academic performance was higher for students who spent more time on the Web than those who spent less time. The effects remained consistent throughout the course of the study.

Jackson says that parents, particularly low-income parents, should be encouraged by these findings. The Internet may be getting even the most pronounced bibliophobes to appreciate the written word: "The reason for this improvement is because the Internet is text-based," she says. "Kids are reading more than they otherwise would."

Stronger reading muscles translate into academic improvement across the board?except, perhaps, in mathematics, an area in which the study's subjects showed no change.

Jackson, however, does not suggest a "more is better" policy when it comes to time spent on the Web. The students in her study averaged only 30 minutes a day of Internet use. "Excessive time online is likely to detract from other activities that contribute to good academic performance, as well as social and emotional development," she stresses.

So while no study is likely to point to benefits of your kids assuming permanent citizenship in the computer chair, parents can rest assured that the Internet's affect on the adolescent brain can be quite the opposite of melting.
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