Experts say Internet has many harmful effects on children

Experts say Internet has many harmful effects on children

Many children use the Internet to browse websites, chat, play games, get information for their homework and post their profiles on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. (Photo: Sunday's Zaman, Kürşat Bayhan)

June 30, 2013, Sunday/ 12:49:00/ ESRA TUR

The Internet has become part of our lives, and many surveys show that an estimated 45 percent of children use the Internet and spend more than three hours on the Internet every day of the week in Turkey.

Thus, concerns have grown among parents over its impact on children’s behavior and the possible threats they face in the virtual sphere. Internet can be a wonderful resource for both adults and children and is a great source of information and entertainment. It enables children to easily access information for their homework, connect with their friends or relatives or research issues that are of interest to them.

At the same time the Internet can also be dangerous, and there exists a growing concern about its harmful effects when misused -- potentially, inflicting social and psychological damage on children and pushing them into leading isolated, antisocial individuals, while living in a virtual world away from real life. Overuse may ultimately lead to Internet addiction, which negatively affects a child’s scholastic performance, relationship with the family and psychological health. As easily as children can locate useful information, children can also access information that is unsuitable and communicate with people they shouldn’t come in contact with.

The effects of technology on children are complicated, with both benefits and costs. Whether technology helps or hurts in the development of children’s thinking depends on what specific technology is used and how and with what frequency it is used. A large number of children use the Internet to browse websites, chat, play games, participate in online forums, get information for their homework, post their profiles on social networking sites such as Facebook and twitter and send e-mail.

Although parents often encourage their children to use the Internet to access useful information, giving them many unmonitored hours often allows them to go astray. While parents think their kids are searching for information to complete a homework assignment, they may well spend hours playing games online or come across websites that are not meant for them, including inappropriate sites with pornographic images or videos, information facilitating the use of drugs or alcohol or any kind of violent content. Children subjected to such inappropriate content may experience anxiety and behavioral expression disorders. It’s up to parents to make sure their kids spend that time safely on the Internet, experts say.

Sunday’s Zaman asked child psychologists what parents should do to prevent harmful Internet effects on their children and ensure they are safe while they are using it.

Child psychologist, academic and therapist Erdem Çoşkun told Sunday’s Zaman that in his work he occasionally comes across extreme cases of Internet addiction, where children spend many hours on the Internet, during which they eat meals in front of the computer and leave their seat only when they have to go to the toilet. Çoşkun calls on parents to seek psychological guidance in such extreme cases, which can result in antisocial personality disorders.

Children who spend much of their free time on the Internet may also lose the ability to establish genuine face-to-face communication. They often do not realize they are slowly being estranged from the real world when they spend more and more time in the virtual sphere, which may negatively affect the child’s confidence, activity levels and diet and may lead to sleeplessness, constant headaches and a change in eating habits, Çoşkun added.

Child psychologist, academic and therapist Sevil Yavuz added that the Internet plays an important role in children’s academic and social lives. Children living in metropolitan areas are more likely to develop an Internet addiction than those living in villages or small towns, as they have other forms of entertainment available to them, such as playing outside with their friends. “The greatest danger to children lies in their own homes. Children spend more time indoors on their gadgets than they do on outdoor fun activities like riding bikes and scooters and other outdoor games, and as with other sedentary tasks like watching television, Internet use can replace healthy physical activities such as sports and outdoor exercise, leading to health problems like obesity and poor muscular development, which is a clear physical risk for kids. At this point parents should get more involved with their kids and encourage them to read more books to reduce their attachment to computers. Also, parents should organize a weekend away and force them to leave their gadgets behind,” she said.

“Most cases of Internet addiction stem from loneliness and a lack of parental care and attention in families where both parents are working and thus cannot allocate adequate time for their children. When parents do not spend time with their children or provide social and emotional support, children often tend to connect to the Internet, which is an easy way to make new friends and escape from the real world,” Yavuz said, adding that parents should become friends with their children and spend more time with them to overcome the child’s desire to escape into the virtual world. She recommended that parents talk to their children every day for at least 45 minutes about their daily activities, interests, etc., which proves helpful in keeping the parties in touch so that children do not feel they are lacking parental care or support.

Yavuz added that many parents get angry when they see symptoms of Internet addiction in their child and take the computer away as a form of punishment. Others force their children into activities they don’t like, believing that is the only way to get rid of the problem. However, both approaches invite trouble, as the child may internalize the message that they are bad and suffer from withdrawal symptoms.

Protecting children should be a parent’s primary concern, and parents can address the problem first by reminding the child that they love him or her and care about his or her happiness and wellbeing. Experts recommend that parents randomly check their kids e-mail and keep the computer in a common area of the house and use site-blocking software or parental control, which can easily be provided by your online Internet service provider. Decide what websites and content you feel comfortable letting your children see, then take steps to filter or block everything else. You can find out what sites your children have visited by reviewing their Internet history, experts say.

Parents must talk to their kids about Internet safety and spend time with them. Experts also recommend exposing the child to other hobbies and activities, monitoring computer use, establishing clear boundaries for Internet usage and making sure that all of their Internet use is not devoted to chat rooms but includes other activities such as doing research for homework, watching movies and reading books. If nothing works, experts suggest counseling for both the parents and the kids.

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