Obviously, we cannot go back to a time when watching television cartoons, usually after school and on Saturday mornings, was the only "screen time" kids had. And, if we look at the millennial generation (18-34 year-olds) we can see the impact of technology on personal and professional lives. So, what is in store for this next generation? Certainly an amazing amount of Internet screen time will continue to be a big part of life along with who-knows-what additional technology to come.
Because we constantly hear of the negative effects of technology and the Web, it is easy to discount or forget the tremendous benefits the Internet also offers our children. If we can focus on those positive aspects with a healthy consideration of online safety, the Internet can provide amazing opportunities for the upcoming generation. Here are 7 benefits we should keep in mind.
1. Obtaining education
There isn't a classroom in the nation today that does not have computers for teacher and student use. Teachers use computers to track student progress, homework completion and grades. And the extensive, growing use of computers for student learning is delivering more personalized education that cannot be achieved in a traditional classroom environment. Consider all of these educational benefits:
Computer-assisted instruction: Research shows students learn best when actively involved in learning. Internet sites and cloud software can provide highly interactive experiences.
Access to the world: Children no longer have to learn about far-away people and places via textbook pictures. They can go virtually anywhere and experience them, even in real-time.
Helpful for children with disabilities: Cloud-based software can deliver content orally, which is particularly helpful for children with visual impairments or reading disabilities. Children with autism can participate in online gaming with other kids and begin to develop social skills.
Ability to research: The Internet provides endless resources for research, which is especially helpful for children in rural areas without libraries close by.
Access to online classes: Online coursework is a life-saver for home-schooled students, students with conditions preventing them from physically attending school and college students who need a less-expensive method to earning a degree.
A child separated from a parent by long distances, either due to divorce or military service, suffers emotionally. Likewise, a child transplanted to a new city because of a family move suffers from losing touch with close friends. Technology such as Skype allows face-to-face communication with loved ones, and the mental health benefits of this are huge.
3. Making friends
Yes, there is valid concern about kids communicating with strangers online, but consider the benefits for a child with social anxiety. As long as parental controls are in place, kids connecting with other kids on safe sites gives these children quality practice in interpersonal relationships and allows important friendships to form.
4. Getting confidential help
Particularly for teens, issues of all kinds come up which kids do not want to share with parents and even friends. There are great sites that offer opportunities to discuss problems with others who are facing similar issues. Again, with parental controls, access to these healthy and safe forums is really helpful. Of course, it is impossible to protect teens from everything bad out there, so teach them from an early age how to make good choices.
5. Pursuing creative activities
School budgets and course requirements often mean kids participate less in art and music. However, online there are art and music coursework, forums, contests and more. Kids can even create their own websites or blogs to share their interests with others.
6. Staying current with technology
Most parents, and certainly grandparents, marvel at the tech ability of their kids. While it is a bit scary at times, the child, who is entering a world filled with careers in technology, will have amazing online communities and resources that will keep him/her current with new advances. This is career education that can begin as early as middle school!
We are all aware of the dangers of the Internet. We do not want our kids on risky or adults-only sites. Fortunately, technology allows parents to set up controls that block sites by keywords and keyword phrases. Here are a few other safety tips and things to consider.
Put the computer in a family room or kitchen where use can be monitored.
Set up email and social media accounts together, so you have the password too and can monitor what goes on. Help to make sure privacy settings are in place.
Have important discussions about giving out personal information (last name, address, phone number, etc.), communicating with strangers online and what to do if strangers want to meet in person.
Check your child's online history every once in a while.
Be aware the home computer is not the only computer your child may have access to. In the case of young children, it is a good idea to check with parents of your kids' friends to see if they too have parental controls and access to their child's Internet activity.
The negative effects of children and teens spending too much time online are undoubtedly present: we hear about them every day. However, we should never forget the wonderful benefits the Web has brought and will continue to bring to our kids in the exciting world of ongoing advances.
Laura Callisen is a freelance blogger and journalist. Today she works as a business consultant and contributes many posts about education, family relations, children development and culture. Follow her on Twitter to see her portfolio!