Why walk or ride a bike to a neighborhood friend's house to share some juicy news when you can stay home and video chat or send an instant message on your computer instead? Computers -- or more specifically the Internet – have had a major impact on the social lives of children and redefined what it means to connect. Despite its convenience and usefulness, sitting in front of a computer for long periods cuts into other free-time activities, not the least of which is physical exercise.
The parents or grandparents of children in the new millennium rightly thought having a phone in their child's own room, or better still a phone number designated exclusively for the kids was as good as it got when it came to chatting with friends from home. Once personal computers and access to the World Wide Web entered the picture, kids began connecting digitally through social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter. In fact, social media is the preferred form of communication in children of all ages, notes HealthyChildren.org, the official website of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Positives and Negatives
Socialization via the computer has advantages and disadvantages. For example, email is a fast and efficient way to send letters or attachments to friends and family -- especially those who live far away. The downside of email is that it can be similar to postal mail or "snail mail" in that a child may have to wait awhile -- sometimes a long while -- for a response. Instant messaging does away with the waiting game because it allows kids to chat back and forth in real time. But it's hard to have a lengthy or meaningful conversation using instant chat since it typically involves sharing only snippets of what's up. The computer can be a great learning tool for children as it provides information on every subject imaginable. Classmates can log onto their computers to study together or work on school projects.
Concerns that computers might reduce the time children spend socializing may be a fallacy, according to Education.com. In fact, kids may increase their social interactions when they go online. Computers can prompt an otherwise shy or introverted child to communicate via the Internet by commenting on a peer's Facebook post, answering a question or being so bold as to disagree with a remark.
Parents should keep a watchful eye on their child's social media use. Sadly, some children may run into predators or pedophiles when visiting online chat rooms. Some adults who are sexually interested in children may pose as kids in an effort to befriend an unsuspecting minor. The computer has also given bullies a new medium in which to tease, taunt or target a peer or classmate. Online bullying is referred to as cyberbullying.
Total daily screen time -- including the computer and TV -- should not exceed one to two hours, recommends the American Academy of Pediatrics. Encourage your child to get fresh air and at least one hour of aerobic exercise such as running, bicycling or swimming every day. Socialization on the computer means kids are spending more time being sedentary. The percentage of U.S. children aged 6 to 11 years who were obese jumped from 7 percent in 1980 to close to 18 percent in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.