In the years since the Internet evolved from a simple string of phone-networked military computers to today’s news, communications, and entertainment juggernaut, experts have debated its impact on our daily lives. There’s no denying the Internet has forever transformed the ways in which we share information, form relationships and entertain ourselves, but are the children of today—the first generation to grow up in an “always on” world—suffering unforeseen consequences of the digital revolution?
The answer is a somewhat qualified “yes.” While society has historically regarded any new technology with suspicion and concern, research indicates today’s kids—immersed almost from birth in both the virtual world and the real one—are acquiring an unsettling set of behaviors that might mean trouble down the line.
One such potentially disturbing behavior is the early adoption of multitasking. Although valued in the adult workplace as a productivity aid, in infants and toddlers, multitasking can actually hamper the development of concentration and interpersonal communication. Whereas toddlers used to pass an afternoon stacking blocks or finger painting with friends, today many are learning their numbers with an animated app or creating their latest masterpiece on their parents’ iPad. In addition to missing out on motor skill development, these kids are losing critical interactions with parents and other children—interactions necessary for the development of healthy relationships and interpersonal engagement later in life.
It’s not just the potential loss of real-world skills that’s short-circuiting young brains. Stacked up against the shiny wonders of the virtual world, everyday tasks like reading, chatting, and even sports and games can seem dull and pointless. Internet addiction can modify the brains of young children at the time their minds are most malleable, leaving them vulnerable to a host of antisocial behaviors and other health concerns later in life.
The Internet is undoubtedly a modern marvel. But in a world where many parents regard the Internet as combination playground and parenting aid, moderation may prove more important than innovation. And for children growing up in a plugged-in culture, a successful and happy future in the world of tomorrow may require spending more time in the real world today.
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