The Internet has some positive aspects but there are also negative aspects to the information highway. There is now some concern from educators and psychologist about the impact of the Internet on the physical, cognitive, and social development of children. According to the HomeNet study, it was found that teenagers are much heavier users than their parents (Affonso, 1999). The main use of the Internet for teenagers is to play games, to listen to music, and to meet new people.
Impact on Physical Development
Early childhood development emphasizes physical manipulation coordinated with observation and social interaction about the effects of manipulations (Pierce, 1994). The “hands on” experiences are vital to the developing concepts such as conversation and cause-and-effect relations. There is no evidence that virtual manipulation will generate the same intellectual skills and personal agency that come from physical manipulation.
The Internet consists of quick and easy access to a vast amount of information. In early- child development it has been a practice to limit children’s obtaining of information by simplifying messages and sequencing content. Given the reported negative impact of information overload on some adults, such as “information fatigue syndrome,” it is likely this volume of information could be quite confusing to children with immature physical and cognitive structures (Pierce, 1994).
Impact on Cognitive Development
Information posted on the Internet is lawless. Young children depend on adults to validate what they see, hear and feel. The information on the Internet is uncontrolled and there is no way to check its reliability, and further, often no practical way to ensure referability (Pierce, 1994). Consequences children face by getting on the Internet are that they are less able to discriminate between what is and is not real, and they are unable to test reality in the virtual world.
Professor James Collins, a specialist in writing and teaching of writing at the State University of New York, at Buffalo, sees several educational problems surfacing among school kids that are directly traceable to their exposure to the online world. Students who are facing trouble in writing courses are plagiarizing research projects. Additionally, chattiness and informality considered appropriate in email communication is spilling over into the “formal” writings of high school students’ essays (Gates, 1998). Such negative influences are not only a threat for younger children but also for those in college. At a large university in New York, the dropout rate among freshmen new comers rose dramatically as their investment in computers and Internet access increased. Administrators learned that 43% of the dropouts were staying up all night on the Internet (Wallace, 1999, as cited in Affosno, 1999).
Impact on Social Development
The Internet can enrich children and their school-based learning and can be a tool for creative and intellectual work with others. However, when abused, Internet usage can also take children away from doing important social activities such as homework, chores and spending time with family and friends. Michael A. Weinstein, professor of Political Science at Purdue University believes Internet users will “lose the savvy and skills and patience to conduct social relations in the corporeal world,” and that the Internet will intensify the negative effect television has already had on our social skills (Weinstein, 1995, as cited in Affonso, 1999). Furthermore, there is a serious concern involving the proliferation of inappropriate content, such as violence, bias, hate speech, profanity, and pornography. The Internet gives children an easy way to find information and it permits unwelcomed messages to find their way to children.
Because of the seriousness of the impact of pornography on child development, a few extra words about the topic must be mentioned. Pornography can be generally defined as erotic depictions intended to provoke a sexual response (Casanova, 2000). It can exist in many forms, including videos, films, still pictures, and even comics. Child pornography pictures and videos usually depict acts of sexual intercourse, sodomy, cunnilingus, and fellatio between children and between a child and an adult (Esposito, 1998). It is easy to see how child pornography harms the child and destroys the idea of his or her childhood. Since child pornography is an illegal underground industry, it is impossible to determine the number of children involved in its production. Consequently, pornography is rampant on the Internet because pedophiles can transmit and download an illegal picture anonymously from a source, which is unregulated, and thereby avoid law enforcement. Child pornography causes much harm through its use by pedophiles as a tool to destroy children’s inhibitions, teach the performance of sexual acts, and threaten or blackmail children, thereby furthering actual abuse (Esposito, 1998). Society has struggled to regulate pornographic sources and materials on the Internet, which are unregulated and thereby avoid law enforcement.