Proliferation of smartphones and better Internet access has had a profound impact on one of the most vulnerable age groups — young children and adolescents. Schoolchildren are exposed to all kinds of information on the Internet. And, like all disruptive things, they carry both positives and negatives with them.
To get a better understanding of the effect of Internet on schoolchildren, we spoke to Dr. Sibnath Deb, who is a professor at Pondicherry University, in Pondicherry, India. He has over 26 years of academic experience and specialises in health psychology, students’ mental health, applied social psychology and child protection.
Excerpts of the interview:
How does the Internet affect schoolchildren and their academic pursuit?
I would say there are negative and positive effects. The main positive is that it helps students access a wide array of information. The ease of access has also meant that they are able to do their homeworks on their own. Sometimes, parents are not able to answer some of the questions and at times like this, children use the Internet to get a better understanding of certain ideas. This approach not only helps them solve their immediate needs but adds to their overall growth. The learning curve is much bigger when they access the information by themselves and it also leads to a better understanding of ideas.
Also, in this digital age, children need to get acquainted with these emerging technologies. The earlier they get exposed to it, the better and more effective their learning is. I also notice a change in their outlook. Children and young adults are more comfortable when they have these information at their fingertips, which the Internet provides them with.
And, the negatives?
The main negative [of exposing children to Internet] is that it provides access to adult content. The access to adult content can drastically modify their behaviour with the opposite gender in classes or in other social settings.
What can parents do to prevent the misuse?
Parents’ supervision is extremely important. They need to be vigilant and keep a close eye on the children’s activities. I see a lot of parents give 24/7 Internet access to their children, which I believe adds to the problem. Uninterrupted access to the Internet is likely to add fuel to the fire.
They also need to be the role models for their children. If they are constantly seen using the Internet or social media networks, it sends out a wrong message to their children. They need to draw the line or boundary, separating acceptable and unacceptable behaviours.
What about the role of teachers?
Teachers, like parents, need to list the positives and negative effects of Internet usage to students. They also need to sensitise parents on their role and effects of Internet on their children’s both academic and personal growth.
Any personal experience that you would like to share?
Yes, this was during one of my research experiments. We found that children as young as 14 years were open to physical relationships. And, one of the main reasons, we found was, that young adults exchange ‘adult’ information that and in turn, exposes many to such information and experiment. The advent of social media and instant messaging platforms has only added to the problem. This has far-reaching implications and also affects their career development.