Wen, Patricia (21 April, 2000). “Researchers Worrying as Teens Grow Up Online” The Boston
Edwards, Marcelene (22 June, 2001). “Internet Now a Vital Part of Teen’s Lives” The News Tribune.
Kornblum, Janet (24 July, 2003). “Study: Internet Tops TV in Battle for Teens’ Time” USA Today.
Elizabeth Cross is a typical 14 year-old. At 1a.m. she is chatting any number of her 57 online “friends.”
Should we be concerned that this, the first generation of ‘wired’ teenagers who spend at least one-two hours a day on the internet, seem increasingly isolated and, says Wen, less adept at interpersonal relationships? More and more researchers are finding cause to reconsider what the internet is doing to young lives. Sheery Turkle, an MIT sociologist, explains: “We’re not only looking at what the computer can do for us, but what are they doing to us.”
Turkle shares a view many other researches are coming to – that a teenager’s sense of self and values “may be altered in a world where personal connections and the creation of new identities can be limitless.” Robert Kraut, a social psychologist at CarnegieMellonUniversity calls these the “opportunity costs” of online time for youths.
Consider these findings:
· Teens who used computers, even just a few hours a week, showed increased sings of loneliness and social isolation.
· About 40 percent of US households now have a computer (as of 2000). Nearly 70 percent with incomes more than $50,000 have computers.
· AOL reported a spike in instant-messenger traffic in the mid-afternoon when schools let out.
· Edwards reports that 73 percent of youths age 12-17 spend time online for chatting and studying.
· Close to 13 million teenagers use instant messenging.
· About 78 percent of teens say the Interned helps with school. 94 percent say they use the Internet to do school research.
· About 70 percent of online families have the computer in an open family area.
· Kornblum reports that, according to a survey of 13-24 year-olds, young people spend an average of 16.7 hours a week online (not including email). They average 13.6 hours watching TV. Compare this to the 6 hours on average spent reading books or magazines.
According to Turkle, the “Web is the location where much of the work of adolescence is being done these days.” But, concerning internet “buddies” and/or “friends,” Harry Waxman of HarvardMedicalSchool suggests that these “are not the kind of relationships that will sustain you if you have a personal crisis or a death in the family.” McLeanHospital has gone as far as setting up an InternetAddictionCenter for teens and adults who fear computers are harming them psychologically.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
1. Why are young people drawn so powerfully to the Internet?
2. Do you know of any parents/counselors who have found practical ways to limit internet use?
3. Are teenagers you know aware of the risks they are taking in spending long-hours online?
4. Are these risks real?
Technology has a way of making powerful tools accessible. But technology can’t question its own impact on human life. The Internet is typically praised as a wonderful way of helping young people become more connected to the world. And yet, it can promote habits of isolation and addiction. If life becomes all too ‘virtual’, one can expect very real social and psychological handicaps to arise.