Child Behavior: The internet and adolescent behavior

The internet has become the adolescent’s medium of choice. Teens and preteens report that they spend more time on the internet and prefer the internet to any other media source, including television, radio and the telephone. This is a relatively new and rapidly expanding phenomenon, and there has been little research done in terms of how all this time spent on the internet affects the well-being and behavior of adolescents.


Best-informed generation in history


We all know that the internet offers a wealth of information in various formats, including text, sound and video. And the internet is also an important social environment. Socialization in adolescence contributes dramatically to the issues that impact their well being through this developmental period. We are finding that issues of identity formation, self esteem, and sexuality are now explored in the virtual world of cyberspace.

The knowledge adolescents now have at their fingertips gives them the potential to be the best-informed generation in history. It also allows them to communicate with other adolescents about emotionally sensitive topics in a forum-type setting.

The anonymity the internet provides often allows kids to speak more freely and honestly than they would in a face-to-face communication. Adolescents can also practice and rehearse social interaction in chat rooms or on blogs, which can help them gain confidence for social interactions in the world beyond their computers.

There is some compelling research which shows that the internet is beneficial for adolescents who are shy or socially awkward, allowing these kids to practice social skills without the anxiety of face-to-face interaction. This on-line communication can also allow adolescents on the social margins to feel a sense of connection with other teens who share similar problems or concerns. An additional benefit is that the internet allows kids to belong to online communities of like-minded teens who share similar interests, concerns, or hobbies they might not find in their immediate neighborhoods.


Anonymous communications can pose real risks


Although sensationalized headlines have exaggerated the risks associated with internet use and have increased parental concerns, adolescents need to be made aware of the pitfalls of the online world because it can be a powerful tool of abuse. Adolescents have the freedom to communicate with anyone they choose and can literally post anything they wish to say.

Because of the anonymous nature of communications, adults can use chat rooms, or instant messaging to send adolescent unsolicited offers for sexual activity. Because a majority of teens have reported communicating with someone on the internet whom they have never met or whom they don’t know at all, the risk of an adolescent communicating with a person masking their true identity is a real danger. There are many sexual predators roaming the internet looking for vulnerable teens that might be willing to meet in person. On-line victimization of teens is an ever-present danger.


Want to know more? Read more about the internet and potential risks for your children here.


Paul Schwartz, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh.