Young people nowadays are growing up with the internet as an assumed part of their lives and learning process. For the older generations, it’s still a relatively new technological advance, but the young people of today can’t imagine life without it.
Games on the internet are used to teach maths and literacy to children in a fun way, and teens are now taught how to effectively Google their research, searching the internet rather than books for answers. More than for learning though, the internet is used for socialising, the children of today rush inside instead of out, to play with their friends over Xbox live, or flick through Facebook.
So it can be educational and sociable, but it also affects young people in ways you might not have thought of. Here are some surprising ways that the internet can affect young people.
The internet creates social barriers
Young people struggle more than any other generation when it comes to socialising. Being young, they haven’t had as much experience as the rest of us, and the whole process can be quite daunting.
The internet can further these difficulties though. Browsing the internet on a mobile phone can be a welcome distraction from any intimidating social situations, but long term, it can create a social barrier.
The more time they spend looking at screens instead of interacting with others, the less confident they’ll become even just talking to new people.
Whilst the internet allows for a lot of socialising via social media sites, it also provides a screen to hide behind throughout online interactions. Young people of today have grown up with that protective screen as a part of their social interactions. Without it, socialising can be a completely different experience.
Developing your identity and discovering who you are is a huge part of being young. The internet can help with that, broadening your interests and knowledge, and allowing you to contact people from all walks of life. But it can also create confusion around identity.
The internet has allowed people to create an alternate identity for themselves, their online identity. Social media sites allow people to garnish their profiles with whatever they want people to see, even if it doesn’t truly reflect their personality.
A lot of social value is now placed on how many ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ you get, and so young people often become more focused on creating an interesting online personality, than actually living their lives, and discovering their true personality. As long as their online profiles look interesting, it doesn’t really matter what they’re actually doing with their days.
Internet addiction and dependence
When you think of addictions you probably think drugs, or alcohol, but for young people, internet addictions are perhaps more common. The internet may not be a ‘class A’ drug, but excessive use can be unhealthy and can lead to dependence.
So we’ve spoken about social barriers and this is one of the reasons for internet dependence. Put plain and simply, it’s just a lot easier and less stressful to socialise in the virtual world than the real world. Some young people even place more value on their virtual identity than their actual identity, so the internet is something they feel they just can’t go without.
Those that develop an internet addiction generally do so as a result of a feeling of euphoria when they use the internet. Not everyone gets this feeling, it’s a ‘high’ that’s more common in those that feel anxious, depressed or isolated.
The creation of cyberbullying
Bullying is a huge issue amongst young people, and despite all the great advantages to the internet, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s a whole other playground for bullies to thrive.
Whilst screens can be handy for introverts to hide behind in social situations, they also allow bullies to avoid face to face confrontation, and even remain anonymous if they wanted to.
This means that often, bullying issues are outside of schools’ hands, and anti-bullying methods just aren’t as effective, especially when delivered by those who can’t necessarily relate to this new age of social media, or understand its potentials.
Perhaps the biggest problem with cyberbullying is the distance the internet puts between bullies and their victims. This also means that often other people are more likely to go along with a vicious rumour or join a hate group, without realising that it’s still bullying. This can cause victims to feel as though everyone is against them.
Extensive use of the internet can have physical affects
Young people often use the internet a lot more than they should. Whether to play games, complete homework, socialise, shop or just browse, some young people have been reported to spend up to 9 hours a day online. This is a shocking statistic, and one that gets worse when you realise the physical affects this can have.
I’m sure you’ve all sat awake at night, thinking that one more scroll through Facebook won’t hurt, but using the internet can actually disrupt your sleep. It can act as a distraction before bed, and leave the mind active and wanting more. Cognitive stimulation is exactly what you want to be avoiding when trying to fall asleep. This is problematic for young people, as they often need more sleep than older generations, but aren’t getting it.
Excessive use of the internet is also a contributing factor to the recent increase in levels of obesity in young people. The more time spent in front of screens, the less time they are engaging in physical activities.