Israeli researchers are finding that the Internet, considered a major source of trouble by parents and educators, is actually more good than bad for children.
Professor Moshe Israelashvili of Tel Aviv University's Constantiner School of Education found in a study of 278 Israeli teens that many were using the “Net” to explore their personal identities and build their futures.
The findings, recently published in the Journal of Adolescence, prove that the Internet can be an important tool in a teen's psychological development, said Israelashvili, who conducted the study with M.A. Student Taejin Kim and colleague Dr. Gabriel Bukobza.
The researchers asked the teens, both males and females in schools throughout Israel, to rate themselves in terms of Internet use, ego clarification, self-understanding and how well they related to their peer group.
They found a negative correlation between Internet overuse and the teens' level of ego development and clarity of self-perception. The finding, said Israelashvili, indicates that some Internet use is destructive and isolating, while some is informative and serves a socializing function.
“Facebook is not in the same category as gambling or gaming,” contended the scientist, who advocated a redefinition of the parameters for internet addiction in teens. Currently psychiatrists define an “internet addict” as a person who spends more than 38 hours a week on the Internet – but the TAU researcher argues that it is quality, and not quantity of time that counts with teens.
Differentiating between two different kinds of teenage “internet addicts,” Israelashvili defined one group as true addicts – those who misuse the Internet with activities like gaming, gambling or pornographic sites, and isolate themselves from those around them. The second group, however, he defined as “self clarification seekers,” who use the Internet to help them define their own identities and their place in the world. These teens tend to use the Internet for information gathering on news websites, and social networking on Twitter or Facebook.
The researchers concluded that parents and educators should change their conversations with teens about their Internet use. What is important, they said, is how the time is used.
“Students must learn to use the Internet in a healthy way, as a source of knowledge about themselves in relation to their peers around the world,” Israelashvili recommended. He also advised parents to encourage a healthy flow of conversation in the household itself, noting that teens will spend less time in front of the computer if their parents are more involved at home.
“Too many parents are preoccupied,” he said. “They demand high academic achievements, and place less importance on teaching their children how to face the world.”