The Effect of Internet on Teenagers
The use of the internet has become part and parcel of our everyday lives. Advancements in information and communication technology (ICT) have led to increased use of the internet in the society. People use the internet for various functions and reasons. For example, students use the internet to obtain educational information to enable them to do their homework, policy makers in the government use the internet to obtain vital information that would facilitate their policy formulation and decision making processes, tourists use the internet to trace locations through Google Maps while businesspersons use the internet to obtain information about emerging trends and issues such as change in consumer preferences, global economic crisis and new government legislations that may affect their businesses in the global business arena. People may also use the internet to mingle, socialize and interact with other people through social media and networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, public chat rooms and many others. The internet is also used for conducting business through electronic commerce platforms and for official communications such as sending job applications and emails. It is estimated that there are nearly seven billion people using the internet each day in the world as of January 2011 (Davidow, 2011). Thirty five percent of these global users are assumed to be teenagers. The increased use of the internet among teenagers has raised grave concerns on its effect on teenagers. Katz and Rice (2010) also affirm that the increasing presence of the internet in the society has induced psychiatrists and scientists to reflect on various positive and negative effects that it has on our lives. Based on this need, this research paper aims at determining various effects that the internet has on teenagers.
The internet has various effects on social lives, mental health and physical wellbeing of teenagers. These effects can be either positive or negative.
Negative Effects of Internet Among Teenagers
Some of the most common negative effects of the internet on teenagers include development of poor socialization skills, time wastage, internet addiction, poor mental development and physical health, cyber-bullying, poor communication skills, access to harmful information, risks associated with online predators and development of socially unacceptable behaviors.
Development of Poor Social Skills
One of the prime concerns about the increased use of the internet is its effects on the development of social skills among teenagers. Critics of the internet and sociologists emphasize that modern teenagers spend less time involved in social activities such as sporting events, recreation activities, social gatherings, family reunion parties, weddings as well as religious events. This has led to reduced development of socialization and interpersonal skills among teenagers. As a consequence, teenagers have become poor socialists. According to Katz and Rice (2010), increased use of the internet has resulted into reduced participation in outdoor activities among teenagers. Katz and Rice (2010) further affirm that teenagers are inclined to withdraw from social activities and events due to their increased use of the internet. Increased use of the internet has made teenagers become more self-engrossed and unconcerned about the society. According to Eagen (2008), a large number of teenagers who use the internet regularly are highly reluctant or unable to understand various viewpoints on most social issues such as good parenting techniques when they grow up. This is linked to their increased exclusion from social settings and events and reduced social interactions. Teenagers may also use the internet as a way of escaping from the real world. Eagen (2008) asserts that teenagers sometimes use the internet to avoid personal contacts with other people. This has resulted into the creation of weak and poor interpersonal relationships among teenagers as well as between teenagers and their parents, relatives and friends outside the internet.
Teenagers usually spend a lot of time using the internet. For example, Cuihua and Williams (2011) estimate that teenagers in the State of California spend nearly thirty five hours a week using the internet while their counterparts in the State of New York spend approximately thirty hours each week using the internet. According to an influential article written by Cuihua and Williams (2011), teenagers in the U.S. spend an average of thirty one hours a week using the internet and approximately two hours a day watching pornography online. This heavily reduces the amount of time they would spend on productive activities such as reading, gardening, physical exercise and assisting in the family businesses.
Increased addiction to the internet is one of the most common effects of the internet on teenagers. Addiction to the internet usually reduces the productivity of teenagers at home as well as at the workplace. Addiction to the internet also negatively impacts the performance of teenagers at school. For example, a teenager who is supposed to be in a classroom or library reading would be found in a cybercaf? chatting with online friends, watching pornographic videos or playing computer games online. Addiction to the internet has also resulted into increased psychological dependence thus denting the capability of teenagers to carry out duties and responsibilities effectively. Young and Abreu (2011) state that a person, who becomes addicted to the internet, progressively starts to live lonely and separately from other people. This may also lead to social alienation.
Poor Mental Development and Physical Health
The internet has effects on psychological and mental development and physical health of teenagers.Davidow (2011) establishes that excessive use of the internet often results into retarded cognitive or mental development among teenagers. This is because the internet readily provides needed information or solutions to problems. This discourages critical and creative thinking among teenagers, for instance, teenagers who use the internet frequently to seek solutions to life challenges are usually discouraged and dispirited from developing or formulating appropriate solutions to various problems they may face in their everyday lives. This also encourages overdependence on information found on the internet which may be absurd and hard to believe. Prolonged use of the internet has also been identified as a major factor causing stress, depression and loneliness among teenagers. This usually happens when a teenager spends more time chatting with friends online thus weakening family ties. Depression and loneliness may also result from selective exclusion of a teenager from certain online groups because of racial or gender discriminations. A teenager may also become extremely lonely after losing friends online. Katz and Rice (2010) also affirm that teenagers often become emotionally empty and frustrated when they come across intimidating, annoying, demeaning or discriminating information about themselves on the internet especially on social networking sites. Frustrations among teenagers using the internet may also result from sluggish and slow internet connectivity and non-responsive websites. This further causes psychological and emotional pitfalls that gravely affect the health of teenagers.
Similarly, teenagers often spend many hours surfing the internet. This greatly reduces the amount of time they spend on physical activities or exercises thus teenagers become physically inactive and unfit. As a consequence, they may develop various diseases such as obesity and high blood pressure that are caused by inadequate physical fitness. A health survey conducted by Cuihua and Williams (2011) revealed that approximately twenty five percent of obese teenagers in the United States of America were heavy internet users. Moreover, excessive use of computers may damage the eyes and also lead to postural problems among teenagers who use the internet frequently. According to Eagen (2010), parents in the United States spend nearly one hundred dollars every year to purchase a pair of glasses for their sons and daughters aged between thirteen and seventeen years and approximately four hundred dollars a year to cater for medical expenses relating to treatment of eye problems among their teenagers because their eyes get damaged as a result of excessive use of computers to surf the internet. A research conducted by psychologists and computer scientists from the University of California and Indiana State University between 2005 and 2009 also revealed that excessive use of the internet has diverse effects on the functionality of the brain and psychological development especially among young children and teenagers (Cuihua & Williams, 2011).
Cyber-bullying refers to the act of using information and communication technology (ICT) equipments such as the internet and telephones to cause harm or harass other people. Teenagers have been increasingly using the internet to bully others. This involves sending threatening and intimidating messages to other teenagers through emails, creating groups on social networking sites to spread malicious information, gossip and rumors about other teenagers and constantly stalking, trailing or tracking other teenagers. Cyber-bullying also entails sharing personal information about another teenager through the internet or social networking sites without his/her permission. Cyber-bullying has led to increased insecurity among teenagers. Extreme cases of cyber-bullying have also led to death of the victims, for example, many teenagers have committed suicide because of cyber-bulling or have been intentionally killed by cyber-bullies. Cyber-bullying has also led to increased physical violence among teenagers. Haugen and Musser (2008) also affirm that teenagers have found the internet a perfect platform for spreading rumors and misinforming other people in the community.
Poor Communication Skills
Teenagers are accused of spending too much time browsing the internet, for example, Zheng, Burrow-Sanchez and Drew (2010) estimate that teenagers spend nearly twenty-five hours a week on major social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace and interacting with their friends in chat rooms. As a result, they spend less time interacting and communicating with their parents, friends and relatives through face-to-face communication. This has led to reduced development of communication skills among teenagers. Zheng, Burrow-Sanchez and Drew (2010) also affirm that overuse of the internet by teenagers has isolated them from freely, openly and effectively communicating with their family members and friends through face-to-face interactions.
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Access to Harmful Information
The internet allows teenagers to access information privately and surreptitiously, for example, most teenagers access the internet from their bedrooms using personal computers or laptops as well as through their personal mobile phones. Some information accessed by these teenagers may be good while other may be harmful. For instance, teenagers can easily access pornographic materials such as videos, pictures and movies. In most cases, teenagers are not mentally prepared to deal with such harmful information.
Risks of Online Predation
Teenagers who use the internet frequently are at higher risks of finding themselves prey for online sexual predators especially after posting nude or sexy photos of themselves. Teenagers may also become prey of sexual predators when they talk about sex and sex-related issues such as their sexual identities on the internet with people who they do not know. Adult sexual predators usually use the internet especially social networking sites and chat rooms to instigate teenagers to have reprehensible and inappropriate sexual relationships with them (Zheng, Burrow-Sanchez & Drew, 2010). Usually, the main goal of these sexual predators is to seduce these teenagers and youth adults so that they can have sexual intercourses with them. Female teenagers aged between thirteen and seventeen years are at higher risks of falling prey of online sexual predators than their male counterparts. The internet also increases the chances of sexting. Sexting refers to the act of sending sexually explicit messages and materials to individuals with or without their permission through information technologies such as the internet. This also increases the exposure of teenagers to harmful materials such as pornographic contents that may lead to distortion of thoughts and characters and abuse of personal values and beliefs among teenagers.
Development of Socially Unacceptable Behaviors
The internet has accelerated the distortion of good behaviors and conducts among teenagers. For example, most teenagers often use the internet for social networking. These social networking sites often encourage members to upload their photos into their profiles. This has led to increased misconducts and misdemeanors because teenagers are often tempted to post false information and photos in order to remain relevant and be accepted by other users or peers. Moreover, the internet allows teenagers with different social and economic backgrounds, traditional, cultural and religious beliefs and values to liberally share ideas and interact freely with one another. Some teenagers have misused this opportunity of increased interactions to influence other teenagers to indulge into socially deplorable and offensive behaviors such as introducing their peers to drug and substance abuse and sexual activities through the internet. Similarly, teenagers and young adults have also used the internet to promote social unrests such as political riots and rebellions. According to Katz and Rice (2010), more than twenty percent of gang members who are teenagers in the United States of America learned about the gangs and were influenced to join the gangs through the internet. The internet also increases identity theft among teenagers. Identity theft is misuse or illegal use of personal information that identifies another individual.
Good Effects of the Internet on Teenagers
Some of the advantageous effects of the internet among teenagers include facilitation of long distance learning and distant relationships, readily available information and increased access to entertainment and news.
Long Distance Friendships and Learning
The internet allows teenagers to make friends with peers who are situated in distant places as well as to remain in touch with old friends who might have traveled to other parts of the world. This has facilitated the exchange of ideas, beliefs, social values, traditions and cultural practices and information among teenagers in different parts of the world. This enables teenagers to appreciate and understand social diversity.
Teenagers can also use the internet productively for studying while away from physical classrooms (Cygman, 2008). Most colleges have also adopted distance learning to facilitate access to education for children and teenagers.
Readily Available Information
The internet provides readily available information to teenagers. The internet has increased the spread of information and ideas. Thus, increased use of the internet has enabled teenagers to acquire vital information that enable them accomplish various tasks in their everyday lives. For example, teenagers may use the internet to conduct a research on various educational topics and issues at school and well as to find solutions to life challenges. However, Davidow (2011) warns that increased use of the internet among school-going teenagers may lead to reduced development of cognitive abilities such as creativity, innovation and crucial thinking. Davidow (2011) further warns that increased use of the internet among school-going teenagers may lead to reduced reading culture. This is because teenagers in schools and colleges would be encouraged to copy and paste information from the internet, hence find no reasons to read books in libraries. Moreover, increased use of the internet in education may also lead to the spread of misleading, deceptive and unreliable information among teenagers. This is because some information found on websites such as Wikipedia is not credible and cannot be verified.
Access to Entertainment and News
The internet acts as a source of entertainment for teenagers, for example, they can easily download music and videos from YouTube. Teenagers may also use the internet to obtain news about things happening in different parts of the world.
I would argue that the internet can be a blessing as well as a bane or blight. It can bring great benefits when effectively used. The internet can open a world of possibilities and new opportunities for teenagers and young adults by expanding their horizons and thinking as well as exposing them to different cultures and new ways of life if properly used. Similarly, it can also cause serious harm and damages to teenagers when wrongfully used. Therefore, it is important to provide guidance to teenagers to enable them fully recognize good and bad effects of the internet. For my part, it is unwise to blame the presence of the internet, but rather, we should devise appropriate ways of ensuring that the internet is beneficially and constructively utilized.