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Child Behavior: Turn off the Wifi



Are you scared of new technology?

Every generation experiences technological advances that change the way the world is brought to it and new vistas are opened. My parents' generation listened to radio, my generation watched television which opened new images for us, as well as the accompanying controversies and parental concerns.

I was also on the cusp of the video game explosion with the introduction of "Pong." But we never dreamed of the technology and modes of communication and information retrieval that is available for children and adolescents today.

Being a "friend" has new meaning

When did "friend" become a verb, and how is it if an adolescent has only a few hundred friends today, he is considered unpopular? Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, constant texting and the uncountable number of blogs and modes and channels of social networking on the internet today have literally changed the process of socializing for children and adolescents.  Instagram and Pinterest, according to my youthful resource sources, are the most current modes, but with the speed of development today I'm sure this aspect of the column will be dated by the time you read it.

Video becomes part of our landscape.

Video games that began with the benign ping pong format of "Pong" are now so graphic and realistic that the violence has become a cause of concern for parents and researchers. Has this exponentially exploding process of social networking and proliferation of graphic videogames become a detriment to the developmental process of today's children and youth?

Anything new that young people grab on to is often of concern to parents.  Television, Rock n Roll, and video games historically have received their fair share of detractors as well as bad, even horrific, press where kids were concerned. Some of the concern was warranted, some not.

What are the effects of these new, and not so new, social networking sites and modes of communication on our kids? Tackling all of technology is too much for one column, so I will focus on what the current research has to offer on kids and the benefits and potential risk factors that the internet poses to today's adolescent.

Internet changing our kids

Most adults use the internet as well as other technology, and it is an understatement to say that the internet has changed our lives in a multitude of ways. Nowhere has it changed life as dramatically as for the American child, and especially adolescents. It is estimated that as many as 90% of all American adolescents and preteens engage in some form of daily internet use. The internet has literally changed the experience of being an adolescent in today's society. As one researcher put it, "The internet brings the world -- the good, the bad, and the ugly -- to the American family's doorstep."

The internet, especially texting, has become the adolescents' medium of choice. Teens and preteens report that they spend more time on, and prefer the internet to, any other media source, including television, radio and the telephone.  As this is a relatively new, as well as rapidly expanding phenomenon, little research has been done on the impact and well-being on adolescent growth and behavior as well as the risk factors. 

What can parents do?

First and foremost educate yourself about the internet; today's adolescents know a lot more about the internet than we do! There are also many tracking programs available that will allow you to monitor sites your child or adolescent has visited. Additionally there are extremely sophisticated filters that can be applied to your child's or teen's computer preventing access to certain web- sites. The Internet is a powerful tool, with adequate parental supervision and monitoring, your child and adolescent will reap the benefits the internet has to offer and not experience or fall victim to any of the potential dangers.

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



Other articles by Paul Schwartz