Is instant access to information on the internet beneficial to children?
- The internet was made accessible to all with the invention of the World Wide Web in 1990 by computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee.
- A recent report found that teens spend around seven hours a day on screens--without accounting for school and homework, which adds even more time.
- Wikipedia is one of the most popular sources of information online and is described as an “online free-content encyclopedia project helping to create a world in which everyone can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”
- A 2011 survey of college presidents found that over half of those polled report that the incidence of plagiarism among student papers has increased over the last ten years and that “the overwhelming majority (89%) believe that computers and the internet have played a major role in this trend.”
A brief internet search can answer questions and allow adults to work or learn with more efficiency. But the ability to find instant answers isn’t actually beneficial to children, whose minds are still developing and whose education is still underway.
There is a good reason for concern, as quickly searching the internet for answers frequently yields misinformation presented as fact--and children aren’t always able to identify reliable sources or recognize fake news. Websites with a professional appearance and well-written articles can easily influence kids to believe false claims that have no actual data, research, or statistics to support the so-called information. Additionally, misinformation has the potential to promote violence, prejudice, and racism with possibly dangerous social implications.
Briefly searching the internet for an immediate answer also undermines the value of traditional methods of learning. Students can become dependent on technology to provide the answers they need instead of utilizing critical thinking skills or developing a good attention span with practice or memorization.
It’s even possible that using technology in this way has a negative impact on the psychological and emotional facets of education. Learning in a traditional classroom with in-person instruction is more effective because it nurtures critical thinking skills, while an internet search gives a false impression of understanding, as information is glossed over and forgotten. Getting answers from adults, books, and educational materials ensures accuracy and helps children retain information because they don’t rely upon the opportunity to look it up again quickly.
While the internet can be a useful tool for kids to access information, it should be used with caution and not in lieu of other learning sources.
For a growing number of inquiring children, answers are always just a few clicks away. Today's integration of internet access is undeniable, unstoppable, and in many ways, beneficial, as constant, instant access to information has impacted child development for the better.
Many online activities are linked to positive effects, from building creativity and teamwork skills to improving coordination and visual intelligence. Web-based social interaction and information searches facilitate social and cognitive development. And studies show that home internet access has a positive relationship with students' cognitive development and academic performance. According to research, 'students with high-speed internet access at home have more digital skills, higher grades, and perform better on standardized tests.' Conversely, students who have inadequate or no in-home web access 'have significantly lower overall GPAs.'
Interestingly, lifelong web use may foster a sense of optimism related to probable success in pursuing answers, promoting a willingness to approach problems in other contexts, like philosophical or scientific inquiries.
While some argue that saving phone numbers to devices is evidence of declining memory, research shows this strategic use of 'off-loading' to the environment is actually beneficial to reducing interference when prioritizing our memories for more important learned information.
Dozens of commercial programs are designed to make the web safer for young people by limiting access and filtering out inappropriate ads and spam. Discussion and supervision of what kids are permitted to do online ultimately falls to parents, not the internet. And concerns over potential negative impacts of overuse are easily mitigated through boundaries and parental support, making the internet an excellent tool for kids to utilize in the search for information.