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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Lindsay

The Internet & Children

Research shows that children use the internet to relieve boredom, for social interaction or to play games.  Adolescents use the internet for gaming and social interaction.  It’s during adolescence that peer acceptance and peer relationships become very important and the internet is an easy way to interact and keep connected.

Screen time effects on educational development

Children’s cognitive development is two years below what it was 30 years ago, because children have lost both concrete and abstract thinking.

Today’s children have less idea of weight and length measurements because of the amount of time they spend in virtual worlds, which results in less time in the real world.

Tablets/Devices before bedtime cause sleep disruption

The use of tablets and other electronic devices can disrupt children’s sleep and indeed adults’ sleep. Sleep patterns are affected by what is known as the ‘blue light’ that is emitted from the screen. There is a strong link between tablets or any type of small screen that emits what is known as ‘blue light’. 

The kindle paperwhite doesn’t emit the same levels of ‘blue light’ and indeed there are filter glasses and apps that actually change the type of light.  Brains are being stimulated by devices before bedtime in a way that books do not do. Exciting games just before bedtime is not a good idea. Electronic devices should be switched off at least an hour before bedtime.

In terms of usage, there are differences in the way in which boys’ v girls use the internet.


  • Entertainment

  • Video & Computer Games


  • Seek information with regard to homework (girls are generally more compliant and listen to parents and teachers more)

  • Social interaction (as girls like to chat and keep in touch with friends)

Some of the most negative aspects that appear to be arising from the increasing use of the internet by children are:

Exposure to Violence

Desensitisation and an inability to judge what is real and what is not can be the result of exposure to excessive levels of violence.  Children may learn that violence is an acceptable way to solve problems and will mimic characters that they perceive to be role models.  Children become desensitised to violence and repeated exposure will alter perceptions and make it more likely that a child’s needs for exposure to violence will increase as their sensitivity decreases.


Internet addiction has now been recognised by the American Psychological Association.  People who are lonely, bored, depressed, have low self -esteem or are introverted, have a greater chance of addictive behaviours. Studies show that overuse of the internet can genuinely restrain teenagers' experiences in life, their performance academically, overall happiness, and physiological well-being.

Social Relations

Girls are more likely to socialise via the internet.  The effect of this very much depends upon whether they are socialising with family/friends or with strangers and acquaintances. Teens who spend more time online, experience greater declines in social and psychological well-being during their first year of internet access.  There is deterioration in family bonds and children may miss out on real life interaction with, which results in distorted social skills & limited real life social network. Literature suggests a relationship between social isolation in adolescence and depression. Adolescents who do not report having close friendships consistently have lower levels of self-esteem and more psychological symptoms of maladjustment.  Adolescents who report lack of social support and feelings of isolation may behave in self-harming ways and are more likely to make suicide attempts. When people have more social contact, they are happier and healthier, both physically and mentally.

Distorted Sense of Reality

A nationwide poll showed that half of teens ages 13-18 often communicate through the Internet with someone they have not met in person; one-third have talked about potentially meeting someone face-to-face whom they have only met through the Internet almost 12.5% discovered that someone they were communicating with online was an adult pretending to be much younger. Socially anxious teens may have a tendency to resort to computer communication as a substitute for real life interactions.

Uncensored Material

According to a survey performed by the London School of Economics (2002), 90% of children between ages 8 and 16 have viewed pornography on the Internet. In most cases, the sex sites were accessed unintentionally when a child, often in the process of doing homework, used an innocuous word to search for information or pictures.  Such free access and exposure to this information by adolescents who have not yet developed a full maturity could pose negative impacts on adolescent development and could potentially manifest in their social interactions with peers, their sexual activity, and their emotional development.  Pornography has an adverse effect on older adolescent boys and young men already at high risk for aggressive behaviour. High-risk factors include impulsivity, hostility to women, and promiscuity. In this group, very frequent use of pornography is associated with a much higher rate of sexual aggression.

Parents should make it a family rule to (a) never give out personal information, such as home address, school name, or telephone number in chat rooms or via e-mail; (b) never allow a child to arrange a personal meeting with another computer user without parental permission; and (c) always remember that people online may not be who they seem to be.

Eating Disorders

Sites such as pro-anorexia or pro-bulimia or combination of both provide unhealthy ‘tips’ on weight control.  There is also a high risk of obesity due to children or adolescents no longer playing or doing exercise, which creates an increased risks of heart attack, stroke, cancer and diabetes.

Parental Controls

Have open lines of communication so you can talk to your children about internet risks.  Educate your children about the dangers of giving out personal information.  Speak to them about appropriate ethical behaviour and behaviours that are not acceptable such as bullying and harassment.  Help them understand about healthy sexual relationships so that they understand the difference if they are faced with pornography.

Behavioural Aspects to look out for:

  • spending an excessive amount of time on-line

  • receiving phone calls, mail and/or gifts from strangers

  • quickly changing the screen or turning off the computer/device when someone else enters the room

  • withdrawing from normal activities – wanting to go on the computer/device rather than play or go out with friends

  • lack of awareness of the danger associated with giving out personal details or setting up personal meetings with individuals met via the Internet

What can I do?

Where to begin - Parental role modelling

  • Are you constantly checking your email, using your smartphone or watching TV while your child is trying to talk to you? It’s important to communicate with your child face to face, which means you need to put your device down. This will help establish empathy and also set a good example of the child.

  • The parent is a child’s primary role model, allowing your child to continually sit in front of some form of screen is an example of what is known as benign neglect.

  • Don’t have meals in front of the TV and don’t continually use your smartphone while in front of the child. It tells the child that constant screen time is acceptable.

What controls should I put in place?

  • Talk with your child about his/her excessive computer/device usage. Find out if there are any specific reasons that he/she spends so much time on the computer/phone/tablet – sometimes they become an escape from reality. If your child is facing problems that are causing a desire to “escape”, try and address those. 

  • If the child has a computer, move it to an open area.  If they are using a tablet, ensure they use it in an open area.  Sometimes taking it out of the child’s bedroom is sufficient to reduce their computer usage, and it makes it easier to monitor their usage. 

  • Set a password for the computer/device/phone so that only you can log on to it. Your child will have to ask to be logged on to the computer in order to use it. 

  • Find out how bad your child's addiction is, and what exactly your child is addicted to – does your child spend most of his/her computer time playing games, chatting online, or just browsing the Web?

  • Set a time limit on the amount of time your child can spend on the internet each day. First, tell your child his time limit and see if he’s able to stick to the limit himself. If they can’t control their time on the computer/phone/device on their own (which, if the addiction is serious, will likely be the case), start using a timer. Once the timer goes off, your child has to get off the device. 

  • Set a time limit on the amount of time for yourself in order to be a good role model. If your kids see you following your own rules, then they will be more likely to follow. 

  • Be aware of what your child is doing on the computer. Check the Internet browser's history to see what websites they are visiting, or install a keylogger to monitor the programs that they use. 

  • Buy or download a program that restricts computer use. Parents often find it difficult to enforce time limits because their kids will put up a fight. If necessary, buy software that will enforce time limits or block use, such as , or Popnoggin. With some of these programs, parents must take explicit action to add time rather than remove or restrict it. 

  • Replace the time that your child would normally spend on the computer with other activities such as cards, board games, get her together with friends to play sports, etc. Addictions are hard to break, and it’s even harder when your child has nothing to do.

  • Assign your child extra chores or take away other privileges if she continues to overuse the computer/phone/device. 

  • Warn your child that if they cannot control their time on the computer, you will have to take it away completely. 

  • Follow through on your warning, and take the device away. If your child has their own device, remove the power cord or the sim card, or chance the password and lock the device. Put it somewhere where your child will not be able to get at it without your knowing. 

  • If you have more than one device, you may have to monitor all of them to make sure that your child is not secretly using them. Look at your Internet’s browsing history to see if there are any websites on there that you’ve never visited. You can also install a keylogger, which will record any activity on the computer.



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