Updated: Feb 7
By Teresa Goins
Have you ever tried to carry on a conversation with a teenager who cannot take his eyes off his phone? It is exasperating! What is the overwhelming fascination that draws our young people to that shiny little box with the touch screen? We know that social media (the technology that allows two or more people to have an unsupervised conversation online) can turn dangerous. But what about the Internet in general, i.e., the World Wide Web of available information? The Internet is not totally exempt from negative consequences but, with proper controls, can be quite beneficial. The essence of this article may be controversial, but I believe the Internet is actually good for our young people.
The recent buzz among educators today is that the brains of young people born during the age of technology have physically re-wired themselves to analyze more information than some adults can process in a lifetime! This is the generation that does not know what it is like not to have the Internet. The online News-Medical.net magazine – reporting on latest research by the American Psychological Association (APA) published in a special edition of Developmental Psychology – states that 75 to 90 percent of young people in the United States use the Internet. It is my personal persuasion that at least an hour on the Web each day can positively develop the minds of our young people by (1) aiding in their academic endeavors, (2) building their general how-to knowledge, and even (3) relieving a bit of the anxiety they experience in their personal development and overall evolution of ‘self.’
(NOTE: The APA reports that social media can have negative effects. However, that is NOT the heart of this article. We will discuss solely the beneficial effects of the availability of such a colossal volume of information on the Web, at the fingertips of our kids.)
According to the APA study, the Internet can greatly improve academic performance, especially in hard-to-reach populations. A two-year project entitled HomeNetToo (conducted by Michigan State University) studied the effects of home Internet access on low-income, primarily African American kids. In their study, 140 young people, ages 10-18, of which 75% lived in single-parent households with a $15,000 median income or less, were analyzed. These kids used the Web an average of 30 minutes per day. HomeNetToo reported that those children that used the Internet more “had higher standardized test scores in reading and higher grade point averages (GPAs) at one year and at 16 months … compared to children who used the Internet less.” HomeNetToo author Linda Jackson, PhD, concluded that this improvement in academics may be credited to the fact that these kids read more, as GPAs are so profoundly reliant on good reading skills.*
On the Internet is how-to information on every subject imaginable: how to write an effective resume, how to work a complicated math problem, how to convert a Spanish expression to English, among innumerable other less-scholastic subjects, such as how to change a tire, how to cook a Thanksgiving turkey, and how to tie a tie. Today’s young people are more visually and aurally oriented which, in the learning process, is something traditional paper books have a difficult time addressing. The Internet tutorial is a solution. Instead of reading about diminished chords from a book, a video shows a musician with his fingers on actual piano keys.
The naturally inquisitive young teen that is just now discovering who he is can ‘find himself’ on the Internet. Teenage girls don’t always trust their mothers’ advice about how to apply makeup, and the solution is the YouTube video, which is demonstrated by teenagers their age. The same goes for boys. If they want to learn how to shave for the first time, they can go to the Internet. It cannot be overstated that, especially in an age of prevalent bullying, young people must develop a comfortable confidence in themselves. With supervised Internet access, answers to very personal questions can be found on their phones and home computers, without their piers ever knowing.
With proper controls and an education about credible versus non-credible sites, the Internet is a lifesaver for young people. Even for the Christian young person, the Internet provides online Bible verses with explanatory commentaries, among other valuable godly teaching. So, the next time you see a teenager following the pastor’s message on that shiny little box with the touch screen, don’t scold him. This is the age of technology, and the Internet is just another way to learn.