Youth and Internet: Some Positives, Some Negatives, A Brief Perspective

Frank Farley receiving the 2019 Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award from Joanne Broder. (Photo Credit: V. Krishna Kumar)

Frank Farley receiving the 2019 Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award from Joanne Broder. (Photo Credit: V. Krishna Kumar)

Frank Farley, PhD
Temple University, Philadelphia
frank.farley@temple.edu

Youth are of course the inheritors, and future innovators, of our information technology. Given the influence of the internet across contemporary society, it was of interest to take a brief look at how youth internet life might reflect some central long-time concerns and focus of study in psychology in positive and negative ways.

Learning

The Good: A world of information is available at one’s fingertips. An amazing resource for schoolwork and extracurricular activities. A major source of learning.

The Bad: Learning the wrong things, bad information, invalid data, biased sources, etc.

Thinking

The Good: One can find critiques, arguments, multiple sides to issues, mental challenges, puzzles, etc., that can facilitate thinking skills. Online video games may facilitate problem-solving, decision-making and cause-effect thinking.

The Bad: Get wrong ideas, destructive ideas, dangerous or immoral ideas. Learn biased thinking.

Motivation

The Good: Incredible variety and sensory experience can be exciting and motivating, promoting engagement and attention.

The Bad: Enhances ADHD? Get distracted from the things you need/should learn or know because of irrelevant stimulation. Compelling technology use and constantly motivated to be online, thus school and other offline pursuits may take a back seat.

Inspiration

The Good: Heroes, heroism, and great role models, ideas and inspiration abound in cyberspace. Modeling. Imitation.

The Bad: Get inspired by the wrong models and heroes, anti-heroes (e.g. school shooters/Nazism, hate groups, etc.). Don’t have well developed crap-detectors or moral filters to sort it all out.

Social Life

The Good: Shy, introverted, socially phobic find cyber company and friends online. Stay in touch if a friend moves, reconnect with old friends online.

The Bad: Post personal information, pictures that could haunt you forever, ruining a career, a job prospect, a relationship, etc. Employers, universities might check you out in online searches. Catch FOMO by constantly checking social networking sites? Predators. Trolls. Bullying, gossiping, lies that can lead to depression or worse, suicide, in vulnerable youth.

Self-Expression, Disinhibition, The Global Me

The Good: Most people like to tell their story if they can, the Internet gives you voice.

The Bad: The global platform increases narcissism (“opportunity”)? Attracts negativity from others. Your 15 minutes becomes eternal. Brings out the wrong side of people, the put-downs, your own negativity, flaming.

Diversity, Expanding One’s Horizons

The Good: Exposure to people different from oneself or one’s community, different religions, lifestyles, attitudes, and beliefs, etc. The global village. The other side of the mountain.

The Bad: Learn negative things about other people, other races, other nations, etc. Learn hateful stereotypes and biases. Confirm one’s prejudices/confirmation bias.

Entertainment

The Good: Something of interest for everyone. Can be your babysitter, perhaps your nanny, etc.

The Bad: Pornography, violence, attainable forbidden fruit, highly engaging.

A Positive Online Alternative to Negative Offline Behavior

The Good: Keeps one off the streets away from dangerous experiences. Keeps one at home (sometimes) allowing for closer supervision.

The Bad: The positive alternative becomes worse than the negative offline behavior. Easier to bully online than offline because of anonymity, no fear of direct reprisal, etc. Organize unacceptable offline behavior using online communications (e.g. flash mobs). Videotape bad offline behaviors (e.g. beatings) in order to post it online.

Snooping, Investigating

The Good: Find out interesting things about others, new student at school, checking out teachers on “Rate my Teacher,” etc.

The Bad: Get in trouble if a snoopee finds out. Find out things you don’t want/need to know, e. g. about parents, friends, relatives, neighbors. Obsessed with others (e.g. ex’s, competitors).

Helpful Websites

Connectsafely.org

Tips directed towards tweens and teens about posting personal information, social networking and cyberbullying.

Microsoft.com/protect

Information on filters/monitors

Has contracts about rules for Internet conduct for parents and kids to sign

Author’s note: This short perspective piece is an updated revised summary of the keynote address delivered to the Nadherny/Calciano Memorial Youth Symposium held in 2009 in Santa Cruz, CA.

(Editor’s Note: Frank Farley received the 2019 Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Media Psychology and Technology Award from the APA Society of Media Psychology and Technology.)

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