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When I was an elementary-aged child, free time was spent in the neighborhood with other kids, and information came from school, the library, the TV, which of course only had a few channels, and from other people. The first time I saw a computer, I didn't understand what the big deal was. It was boring, nothing more than a fancy filing system.
My generation of parents is raising children in a world completely different than the one they grew up in. While it's now frowned-upon to allow our kids the freedom we had by letting them roam the neighborhood with their friends, a great many kids can proficiently play games on their many internet-connected devices before they can even read and write.
Though the internet is an integral part of my own life, too, now, I often stop and marvel at the opportunities it is offering my kids — free math lessons, awesome documentaries, whole encyclopedias and dictionaries, easy video contact with friends and relatives in other countries, and the list goes on.
Over-reliance on the internet has a scary downside too, however, yes, even if you install all those parental-control apps, have your computer in a public area of the house, and are very sure that your own children aren't being cyber-bullied or approached by child predators. With some stats suggesting that your average child spends 17 hours a week in front of a screen, about double the amount they spend playing outside, it's clear that the internet is taking over lives. That is a scary thought.
The Internet: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
While there aren't any nearly-organized, flawlessly-conducted studies and meta-analyses of the global effect of internet use on children, what we do have is a random collection of research conducted in different countries. From the pool of research, we can draw the conclusion that about six percent of Chinese minors are addicted to the web, as well as 3.3 percent of Nigerian university students, and 3.9 percent of Italian high schoolers. We also know that that "in real life" problems are a risk factor for internet addiction, that depressed girls have a higher risk of developing a web addiction than depressed boys.
While common sense already suggests that being glued to a screen much of the time leads to a decrease in physical movement. research confirms this. Spending too much time online also leads to poor eating and sleeping habits and even increases the risk that a child will self-harm. In addition, screen time also has a negative impact on grades, and the more time a child spends online, the more severely their academic success is impacted.
Children classified as internet addicts — based on different criteria since no universally accepted checklists are available yet — were also shown to be more likely to come from families in which parents had divorced, from single-parent families, and to be only children.