e internet and its associated electronic technologies have provoked a considerable wave of worry and anxiety among parents and policy makers worldwide in recent years. But in this discussion a very crucial distinction has not been sufficiently made. It is one thing to say that there are risks online.
The research has clearly established the point that such perils exist, from online molesters and bullies, to exposure to problematic content. But where it is easy for people to jump beyond the evidence base is when they assert, not just that there are risks, but that the Internet is a risk-promoting environment or a specially risky environment. They imply that there are features of the Internet that increase risk for young people above what they already encounter or what they encounter in other environments, or what they used to encounter. It is hard to cite any research that as yet supports that notion. Yet, this is the narrative implicit in much of what is being written.The contention is, not just that children can be bullied online, but that the Internet amplifies and worsens bullying and harassment, because slurs can be so widely disseminated.(Sabella, 2009) The contention is not just that children can access inappropriate sexual media, but that the Internet is worsening the sexualization of children and the corruption of their values and sexual development through exposure to pornography or sexual media that are more easily available than they used to be.(Anderson, 2008; Olfman, 2008) The contention is not just that they can access anti-social material, but that the Internet is corrupting young people’s values and promoting crime and hatred through exposure to extreme violence and hate materials that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible.
(Media Awareness Network, 2010) Similarly, that the Internet is degrading children’s mental health by facilitating exposure to pro-suicide or pro-anorexia sites that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to access.(Morrison, 2010; Scientific American, 2008) Similarly, that the Internet threatens children social and academic and physical development because of its encumbrance on their time and the potential for addictive involvement.(Bullen, 2010)Here are a few ways in which the Internet might be seen as an antidote to some youth problem behaviour. Perhaps these influences are more important than the deviance amplifying scenarios that have received so much attention.• Reducing Boredom and Alienation The Internet is an engaging medium even for the most difficult kids. They find stuff to interest them, they find places to connect, and they find engrossing activities. Some youth deviance is an attempt to create excitement, interest, and group bonds when more conventional avenues for those rewards are not readily available.
(Agnew, 2004) Kids break windows when they have nowhere to play. A whole infrastructure of afterschool programs and youth recreation is built around this hypothesis with some justification. Some deviance is also an attempt to cope with negative emotional states (Agnew, 2004), something that the Internet as a distraction may also remedy. The Internet also is a place where kids who do not feel a sense of mastery in other environments may find realms where they experience a degree of mastery.
Through alleviating boredom, alleviating negative emotional states, and providing mastery the Internet may be undercutting some of the motivation for or providing alternatives to delinquent and risk taking activities. Safer Independence Exploration A key element in adolescence is exploring social, intellectual and physical capacities and their associated freedoms and experimenting with greater independence.(Dacey, Margolis, & Kenny, 2006).• Surveillance Effects Another pro-social influence of the new electronic media may be their surveillance effects. To use these media, we have all had to abdicate some element of privacy, and people have wondered whether norms about privacy have changed.
But contrary to the idea that the anonymity empowers deviance, it may be the knowledge that you can be tracked and recorded by it has discouraged deviance as well.• Evolutionary Biology According to Darwinians we are replicating organisms trying to promote the survival of the genes we pass on to our offspring. It seems evolutionarily adaptive for us to be equipped with highly sensitive alarm mechanisms concerned about threats to those offspring.
And it may well be that since we live in environments that have changed drastically from those we evolved in, leaving our intuitions about the dangers to these offspring are easily misguided or hijacked. In fact, the changes may leave prone to both overreactions and also lapses.• Demographic ChangeAdding to the diversity problem, the demographics of youth are changing. As Ken Johnson pointed out, the new generation of young people is increasingly different from the past image of the America, it is increasingly minority.(USA Today, 2010) So to paraphrase the famous proverb by Kalil Gibran, “Our children are not our children”. When parents from the dominant culture look at children today, they don’t see themselves and their own childhoods.
They see a different set of ethnicities and cultures. To the extent that they have biases or anxieties about these groups it exacerbates fears about children and what they are becoming.