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Study on Internet Effect on Children

Study on Internet Effect on Children



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Published by: cucumber123123 on Sep 01, 2009
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The Internet has become an indispensable element of life for most people inthe contemporary world, and children are not excluded. Because of theubiquitous availability of Internet access, in schools and libraries, children areincreasingly becoming involved in this new technology (Steyer & Clinton,2003). As of December 2003, 23 million children in the United States ages 6 to17 have Internet access at home, which is a threefold increase since 2000(MediaPost, 2003). According to a survey conducted by the Corporation forPublic Broadcasting in July 2002, 78% of family households with children haveInternet access at home. A survey by Yahoo and Carat showed that childrenages 12 to 17 used the Internet an average of 16.7 hours per week in 2003(Indiantelevision, 2003). Given this extensive usage, the Internet has thepotential to be a very powerful socialization agent (Huston, Watkins, & Kunkel,1989).
The Internet has a double-edged sword characteristic for children: providing manyopportunities for learning (ParentLink, 2004; Wartella, Lee, & Caplovitz, 2002) whileexposing children to potentially negative content (Finkelhor, Mitchell, & Wolak, 2000).The Internet not only provides significant benefits for children, such as researchaccess, socialization, entertainment, and a communication tool with families, but italso connotes negative aspects such as violence, pornography, hate sites, isolation,predators, and commercialism (Media Awareness Network, 2003; National SchoolBoards Foundation, 2003). The Web sites considered detrimental include thosededicated to negative content such as pornography, violent online games, onlinegambling, and so forth. For example, many children can easily access pornographiccontent on the Internet. They can also be accidentally exposed to numerous obscenepop-up banner ads and extensive pornographic content when they type seeminglyinnocent key words into a search engine, for example, the name of a singer such asBritney Spears, Christina Aguilera, or Madonna (U.S. House of Representatives,2001). According to Finkelhor et al., 25% of the respondents (n = 1,501, ages 10-17) reported receiving unwanted exposure to sexual materials while online, and 19%received a sexual solicitation online.
Despite the potential negative effects on children using the Internet
Despite the potential negative effects on children using the Internet, more than 30%of surveyed parents had not discussed the downside of Internet use with theirchildren (Internet Advisory Board, 2001), and 62% of parents of teenagers did notrealize that their children had visited inappropriate Web sites (Yankelovich Partners,1999). Recognizing the ever-serious negative aspects of children using the Internetand parents' possible underestimation of, or ignorance about, their children's Internetusage and its effects, this study explores the degree of children's exposure tonegative Internet content and detects the possible discrepancy between what parentsthink their children are doing online and their children's actual activities. In doing so,this study carefully dissects the possible causes and consequences of perceivedparental control over children's Internet usage. Concerned that inappropriate Internetcontent may jeopardize the health or safety of children, the present study is a crucialattempt that aims to address the following research inquires with regard to children'sInternet usage: (a) to understand the degree to which children are exposed tonegative Internet content, (b) to detect a possible discrepancy between parents'perception and children's actual exposure to negative Internet content, (c) toexamine various antecedents explaining perceived parental control over children's
Internet usage, and (d) to suggest various ways to decrease children's exposure tonegative Internet content.Literature ReviewIn fall 2002, 99% of public schools in the United States had access to the Internetand 64% of children ages 5 to 17 had Internet access at home (National Center forEducation Statistics, 2002). Children ages 13 to 17 spent more time online thanwatching television--3.5 hours versus 3.1 hours per day, and used the Internetmostly for exploration (surfing and searching), followed by education (learning andhomework), multimedia (music, video, etc.), communications (e-mail, chat, andinstant messages), games, and e-commerce (Corporation for Public Broadcasting,2002). The place children were most likely to use the Internet was in the home,rather than at a library or school: 20% of children ages 8 to 16 had a computer intheir bedroom, of which 54% had Internet access (Wartella et al., 2002).
Negative Effects of Using the Internet
There is an increasing concern from educators, psychologists, and parents about thenegative effects of using the Internet on the physical (e.g., information fatiguesyndrome), cognitive (e.g., inability to discriminate between the real and cyberworld), and social development (e.g., identity confusion) of children (Cordes & Miller,2000), among which, detriment to social development (hurting children's skills andpatience to conduct necessary social relations in the real world) is a paramountproblem (Affonso, 1999). One of the most serious concerns regarding children'ssocial development involves the proliferation and easy accessibility of negativecontent on the Internet, such as pornography, violence, hate speech, gambling,sexual solicitation, and so forth (Internet Advisory Board, 2001; ParentLink, 2004). Itis easy to see how these types of negative content harm children and destroy theirdevelopment. Extant literature shows that children's exposure to inappropriate mediacontent yields many negative outcomes such as increased aggression, fear,desensitization, poor school performance, prevalence of symptoms of psychologicaltrauma, antisocial behavior, negative self-perception, low self-esteem, lack of reality,identity confusion, and more (e.g., Donnerstein, Slaby, & Eron, 1994; Fleming & Rickwood, 2001; Funk & Buchman, 1996; Strasburger & Donnerstein, 1999;Wartella, O'Keefe, & Scantlin, 2000).In particular, sexually explicit materials on the Internet can desensitize children todeviant sexual stimuli and encourage them to enact antisocial aggressive sexualbehaviors (W. Fisher & Barak, 2001). Furthermore, the anonymity of the Internetmakes it easier for pedophiles to approach children through online chatting. Childrenwho spend hours in chat rooms looking for friends or just passing time can be easilytargeted and abused by unknown adult sexual offenders (KidsHealth, 2004). Violentonline games are another serious concern. It is known that violent computer gamesincrease children's physical, verbal, relational, and antisocial aggressions(Donnerstein et al., 1994). These negative effects of violent games on children areeven more serious regarding the Internet because access to such violent games hasbecome easier for unsupervised children due to free or fee-based online games(Collwell & Payne, 2000). Online gambling has also been cited as a serious Internetproblem affecting children. It can seriously disrupt children's social and psychologicaldevelopment, for example, addiction, being unable to repay debts, missing school,and so forth (Ho, 2002; Mikta, 2001
However, little is known about children's actual amount of exposure to suchinappropriate content and activities on the Internet. Extant literature shows that adiscrepancy exists between the reports of parents and children on children's mediausage; for example, parents tend to underestimate time spent on television viewingand the amount of violence to which children are exposed (Pearl, 1982; Strasburger& Donnerstein, 1999). This discrepancy leads parents to underrate the impact of media messages on their children and to not exert much control over their children'smedia use (Gentile & Walsh, 2002). Surprisingly, 38% of surveyed children ages 8 to18 said that their parents do not enforce any rules on watching television, 95% of older children watch television without their parents, and 81% of children ages 2 to 7watch television unsupervised (Roberts, Foehr, Rideout, & Brodie, 1999). This may betrue for children's Internet usage, but we know little about the possible discrepancybetween parental estimates and children's actual Internet usage. In this vein, thepresent study tries to detect the degree to which children are exposed to thesesources of negative content and whether parents overestimate or underestimate theirchildren's exposure to such content. In doing so, this study strives to examine howchildren's exposure to such negative Internet content relates to the social context of Internet usage, that is, the role of family communication and relationship onchildren's exposure to such content.Social Context of Children's Internet UsePeople use media within a social realm, and children are no exception. Social contextof media usage, especially parental influence, is crucial in children's socialdevelopment. However, many social aspects of children's Internet usage are stillunknown. Therefore, this study focuses on the social context of children's Internetuse, especially relative to family environment such as parental guidance, influence,and relationship with children.Children live withinChildren live within a family boundary; therefore, parental influence on children'smedia usage and effect is very important. Extant research shows that familycommunication exerts the greatest influence on children's socialization anddevelopment (McLeod & Chaffee, 1972; Moschis, 1985; O'Keefe, 1973). Stemmingfrom political socialization research (Chaffee, McLeod, & Atkin, 1971), familycommunication patterns have been widely applied to various socialization contextssuch as consumption, political process, media usage, and so forth. In particular, inmass media research, it was found that family communication patterns mediate theextent and type of children's mass media use and effects, for example, watchingpublic affairs television programs (McLeod & Chaffee, 1972; Weintraub-Austin, 1993),interest in and knowledge about politics (Meadowcroft, 1986), imitating their parents'television usage (Chaffee et al., 1971), interpreting televised violence (Krcmar,1998), attitude towards nontraditional sex roles (Corder-Bolz, 1980), child consumerlearning (Churchill & Moschis, 1979; Moschis & Moore, 1982; Robertson, 1979), andso forth.More specifically, concerning children's Internet usage, Wartella et al. (2000) foundthat parental attitude and guidance significantly influence children's judgment of quality Internet materials. Recognizing the importance of family context on children'sInternet usage, the present study tries to examine the role of family context (parent-child communication, relationship, and activity) on children's exposure to Internetcontent and parents' control over children's Internet use. In short, the researchcontributes to this area in the following three aspects: (a) understanding children's

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