There is little doubt that computers and the Internet provide numerous advantages to students. Connected students can access a vast repository of resources for both education and entertainment. However, computers must be used correctly if their advantages are to be realized. Parents and teachers must understand the risks and pitfalls in order to ensure that students maximize their computer time. Following are some of the negative effects computers have on students when used inappropriately.
Poor Use of Computer Time
Unless supervised, many children use home computers for recreation rather than for homework or other productive research. The result is a drop in academic achievement. According to a Harvard University study, students who use computers for personal entertainment often do so at the expense of offline studying. The study found that when students had unsupervised access to a home computer between the fifth and eighth grades, their math and reading test scores steadily declined. Increasing the amount of time the students used computers for school work failed to reverse these negative aspects.
When students spend too much time on computers, their physical health could suffer. Students can develop repetitive strain injuries if their computer stations are incorrectly designed or sized for them. Also, staring at a computer screen for excessive amounts of time can harm children’s eyesight. Students who spend too much time on a computer may not get enough exercise, either. As with TV, sitting before a computer for five or more hours a day can lead to obesity.
Teenagers who spend too much time online with strangers rather than with peers may experience less social involvement. Internet relationships that are not followed up with face-to-face meetings are weaker and shallower than traditional relationships. In most cases, this is because participants in chat rooms and other online venues rarely reveal their true selves. As a result, students who rely only on online relationships can feel lonely, which can lead to depression.
Virtual communities can also be unsafe or emotionally harmful for students. Some communities condone dangerous behaviors such as self-injury and eating disorders. Online teens can also be easy prey for those who mean to harm them.
Cyberbullying -- when someone repeatedly harasses, mistreats or makes fun of another person online or with other electronic devices -- affects more and more young people each year. Victims of cyberbullying feel depressed, sad, angry and frustrated. Some are afraid or embarrassed to attend school. Cyberbullying also causes a loss of self-esteem, academic problems, increases in school violence, behavior difficulties and poor family relations. Victims of cyberbullying may feel suicidal, and tragically, some have acted on these feelings.
According to a 2010 study by the Cyberbullying Research Center, approximately 20 percent of 11- to 18-year-old students said they were victims of cyberbullying; about 20 percent reported that they themselves were offenders; and approximately 10 percent claimed dual status as both victims and offenders.
- Scaling the Digital Divide: Home Computer Technology and Student Achievement; Charles T. Clotfelter; et. al.; 2008
- “Future of Children”; Children and Computer Technology: Analysis and Recommendations; Margie K. Shields, et. al.; 2000
- Cyberbullying Research Center: Cyberbullying Identification, Prevention, and Response
- “Future of Children”; The Impact of Home Computer Use on Children’s Activities and Development; Kaveri Subrahmanyam et. al.; 2000
- Act for Youth Center of Excellence: Adolescents and the Internet
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