This piece from Maxim is thought-provoking;
This week, a report commissioned by the British Government was released, titled Safer Children in a Digital World. The report examined internet usage amongst children and adolescents, pinpointing both its risks and its possibilities. The overwhelming advice given is the need for children to use the internet within reasonable boundaries. There are new risks for children associated with the internet, but these also provide opportunities, as learning to manage risk is an important part of a child's development. The report points out the need to "Equip children to deal with exposure to harmful and inappropriate content and contact." Coinciding with this report is an editorial in the American Journal of Psychology that speaks of a more disturbing impact of the internet on society. Authored by psychiatrist, Jerald Block, the editorial describes internet addiction as a serious medical issue, characterised by markers such as withdrawal, fatigue and lying. The problem is so bad in some places that "After a series of 10 cardiopulmonary-related deaths in Internet cafes ... South Korea considers internet addiction one of its most serious public health issues." Both the report and the editorial tell us what we already know but struggle to negotiate—that the internet has rapidly changed the way we interact, for good and for bad. The temptation is to vilify the technology itself when issues such as internet addiction are raised, when in reality the problem lies with our willingness to let the technology rule our choices and with our lack of boundaries.
The reported incidents of internet addiction worldwide are small, yet they speak grave and important words to us, if we listen. They speak of people trapped in the cravings for instant sensation and connection. They speak of people losing an ability to function physically as the virtual world rules their head. And they speak of a society that builds internet cafes that are cheaper the longer you stay, and then watches as people sit for hours, interacting only with a computer. They are words that we need to hear, not to spark paranoia, but to recognise that responsibility is crucial in the way we interact with information technology. The problem does not lie with the internet. It lies with a boundless culture, instant communication and a glut of sensation. It lies with fickle beliefs and an inability to siphon information. Somehow we must slow down, turn off some switches and speak to each other again about how to be discerning.
This rings bells with me. People are looking for response and sensation. You only have to look at the blogosphere to confirm that, where so many people say things they wouldn't say in a face to face situation.
We have two computers side by side. I am frequently on one and the kids are on the other. So I am well aware of what they use them for. It's fairly varied. My daughter has got into some dubious chat situations which I have persuaded her to curtail considering some of the seedy and silly comments people make. What is the point I ask her? Mostly she uses it for music and sits singing along. This can go on for long periods of time but then at her age I was getting into radio, and taping music on my little cassette player and also singing my heart out. And the music she is getting into is exactly the same stuff. Motown for example. So our behaviours aren't very different.
My son is a little more of a problem as he is less physically-inclined but still very sociable. He spends a lot of time playing interactive Xbox games. But he also plays piano and uses the internet to search sheet music and u-tube for demonstrations. His music teacher told me the play station and x-box manipulation adds to his manual dexterity. He certainly handles and enjoys lightening fast pieces. If he hears jangles or ad music he likes he can instantly access other music by the artist. Thus he has recently discovered Frank Sinatra. He listens to John Key's journal entries because he likes to hear rather than read argument and has developed a strong interest in politics debating with the "socialists" at his school.
The important thing is to make sure they retain real and varied human contact (one of my reservations about home-schooling which I know will be refuted but I cannot put to rest). School provides a good deal of this. Sleep-overs, which we have lots of. Sport. Lots of.
I have never put limits on how much time they spend using computers or playing games. They go to school which I always tell them is the equivalent of going to work. When they work hard at school, attend to whatever other obligations they have (piano practice, sport practice, homework) they can then spend their time doing what they enjoy. I wouldn't accept being treated any differently myself.
The internet is a wonderful, marvellous thing. Yes, it has it's pitfalls (I should be mowing the lawn by now). But like most things, used but not abused, it gives great benefits.
56 minutes ago