Today’s youth now have more opportunities and face more challenges than past generations of students and children. One opportunity, the internet, has its benefits in school and at home but has been known to have substantial side effects on the new generations of children growing up today. Many parents are not even fully aware of the negative impacts the internet can have on the youth of today. These generations have grown up unaware of a world without the internet. The internet has been constantly accessed by these youth, and not without consequence to them. The internet has had a negative impact on children who have grown up using it due to the ease of access to inappropriate and possibly harmful websites or information, social media creating hostile online environments, and has lead to a change in the way youths connect with each other socially.
The internet has changed vastly since its development. While there is a multitude of devices that children and youth can use, many young people own their own smartphones with internet capabilities. In fact, 24% of grade four students own their own cell phones, and a large percentage of students with a moderate amount of wealth between grades four through eleven have access to a portable computer (Johnson, M., 2014, p. 6). Having access to personal devices and private internet connections can create easier access to harmful websites.
The ease of access to the internet has led to children seeing inappropriate things on the internet and has created opportunities for children to get themselves into danger. Due to the rise of portable technology, many public places have free wi-fi available, creating a space where anyone can come connect to it and use it. Children who have smartphones could use this wi-fi to connect to the internet and look up anything they want, without parental knowledge. This can lead to them coming across inappropriate images or websites, or they can also be accidentally exposed to numerous obscene pop-up banner ads and extensive pornographic content when they type seemingly innocent keywords into a search engine (Cho, C., & Cheon, H. J., 2005, p. 489). In fact, 34% out of 1,500 children aged ten to seventeen have had unwanted exposure to a sexually explicit site (DeAngelis, T., 2007, para. 6).
The internet can also be dangerous for children, due to online predators. Youth today are using web pages that have specific age requirements, without necessarily meeting these rules. Many youths lie about their age when entering these sites, which puts them at risk. Many children are unaware that the reason there are age restrictions on certain sites is not only for their protection in general, but to protect them from having information collected on them by websites without parental permission (Clarke-Pearson, K. & Schurgin O’Keeffe, G., 2011, p. 802). Children will lie about their age to enter online chat rooms, and will spend hours looking for friends or just passing time, and can be easily targeted and abused by unknown adults, who may be sexual offenders (Cho, C., & Cheon, H. J., 2005, p. 490). Overall, the internet has increased the danger children face in this world from online predators, as well as creating too many opportunities for children to see something inappropriate.
Social media, introduced to children and youth using the internet, has also created hostile online situations children are involved in and hurt in. Children are not fully developed mentally, yet they are trusted to use online media’s, such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. Social media usage is a risk to youth more frequently than many of their parents realize (Clarke-Pearson, K. & Schurgin O’Keeffe, G., 2011, p. 800). One problem that can arise from youth being trusted to use social media is that children will post comments, videos, or share links without thinking of the repercussions that may go along with them. Students who end up targeted by these negative situations online then go back to school, where they face their tormentors in real life. In the journal written by Kathleen Clarke-Pearson and Gwenn Schurgin O’Keefe (2011), it is stated:
Although “online harassment” is often used interchangeably with the term “cyberbullying,” it is actually a different entity. Current data suggest that online harassment is not as common as offline harassment, and participation in social networking sites does not put most children at risk of online harassment. On the other hand, cyberbullying is quite common, can occur to any young person online, and can cause profound psychosocial outcomes including depression, anxiety, severe isolation, and, tragically, suicide. (p. 801)
Cyberbullying creates problems in real life as well. Children may not know how to resolve situations where they may have been attacked online without making it worse in school. This situation can create feelings of vulnerability and can cause these students to shut down in class for reasons unknown to the teacher (Steiner-Adair, C., 2015, p. 38). Children spend hours checking their social media, losing sleep and study time. Some children are aware of the risks they take online that they would never do to someone in person, but struggle to face the consequences. These students face negative online situations that are hostile and hurt them, and it can be linked to using the internet.
Since the creation of the internet, social media sites have been popping up like wildfire, creating an online world for children to communicate with each other, which may be leading to a change in the way youth connect with their peers. Many children now rely solely on social media to correspond with one another. In a relatively new survey, it was found that 22% of teenage students log into their favourite social media sites upwards of ten times daily, and above half of the young people surveyed log onto a social site over once daily (Clarke-Pearson, K. & Schurgin O’Keeffe, G., 2011, p. 800). Many children are also extremely dependant on their technology when in social situations and unsure of how to act. Approximately one-third of the students in grades four through eleven keep their phones with them when they sleep in case they get calls or messages throughout the night (Johnson, M., 2014, p. 7). Children and youth will also often scroll through notifications, or texts when with peers just to avoid making eye contact. Some children have even said that they have increased anxiety about being around peers and socializing with each other (Steiner-Adair, C., 2015, p.37).
It has also been found that excessive time spent online can have effects on the mental well-being of adolescents. According to Clarke-Pearson and Schurgin O’Keeffe (2011), it is believed that “the intensity of the online world is thought to be a factor that may trigger depression” (p802). This may cause youth to become less active in the classroom, less involved in their homes, as well as less willing to communicate with their peers. This type of isolation may lead them into looking for help in the wrong places online “that may promote substance abuse, unsafe sexual practices, or aggressive or self-destructive behaviors” (Clarke-Pearson, K. & Schurgin O’Keeffe, G., 2011, p. 802). Social media and the internet have caused children to become more dependant on their technology and may affect the way that they connect and interact with their peers in person and online.
Due to the introduction of the internet, children have grown up in a world different from their parents and grandparents. To these children, technology and internet is second nature, and there is no world that exists to them without it. However, children, today must face the negative side effects from the internet that many adults never will. A couple of solutions to some of the current negative impacts children today face could be more parental supervision, as well as more parental involvement by placing rules and guidelines on internet usage for their children. This could help prevent children from being exposed to harmful, inappropriate content on the internet, as well as harassed on social media by peers, and encourage children to connect with their peers in person more as well as some online connection.