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The Internet is good for kids

This doesn’t really come as a surprise to me, but it’s still nice to see it backed up by some data.

The MacArthur Foundation has a message for parents worried about their children’s use of the Internet: Chill out. A new study to be released today found that most teenagers steer clear of dangerous sites and use the Web only for research or to communicate with friends.

It’s just that, as usual, parents don’t understand.

“One of the main things we found is that it is highly motivating for kids to learn from peers, whether it’s the everyday social stuff or learning about new technology or making videos or doing creative writing,” said Mizuko Ito, a University of California, Irvine researcher and the report’s lead author. “They’re learning a lot of the basic social and technical skills they need to participate in contemporary society. If kids are excluded from participating, they’re not learning to engage with media and technology in the way that their peers are.”

Two things: First, it never would have occurred to me to prevent my kids from using the Internet. It’s such an ingrained part of my life – and frankly the lives of so many of my family members – that I can’t imagine a reason to deny it to someone. Obviously, age and maturity level matter, and giving them access to it most certainly does not mean without adequate supervision and boundaries. But the idea from the beginning is that this is something they will want and need to know how to use, and it would be doing them a disservice to not teach them about it.

Second, the stuff about how kids are highly motivated to learn from their peers is just amazingly true, at least in my observation. Olivia is by far the biggest influence in Audrey’s life – more so, I sometimes think, than Tiffany and I put together. Olivia is what Audrey wants to be, and does what Audrey wants to do, and I believe that has accelerated her development in a variety of ways. For her part, Olivia has generally been one of the youngest kids in her preschool class, and I believe that has fostered her learning, as she has striven to do what the older kids have done. As such, I can clearly see the benefit here. But even without observing my own kids, it makes sense to me.

Parents, the study said, are tough critics of the notion that updating your Facebook wall or posting a video to YouTube is as necessary as looking up information for a history paper.

Yeah, well, as a degenerate blogger/Twitterer/Facebooker/etc, I don’t think I’d have much of a leg to stand on there. So it’s just as well.

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One Comment

  1. Sarah says:

    I agree with your point of view here – which means disagreeing with the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends limiting ALL “screen-time” for kids including computer time. They link sedentary activity with obesity among other problems.

    But I grew up disallowed from watching TV and it was a tremendous social handicap. Now that I’m an adult, I certainly don’t think I grew up any smarter or more successful than my peers who watched a lot of TV. So there was a clear downside to the policy and no visible upside.