Unit 11: Development and Aging and the Internet

Contrary to popular belief, there are tons of positive effects of the internet on children and adolescents, and there are many studies that prove it. In a lecture given by Professor Gernsbacher, she discusses some of these positive effects which are summarized here:

  • Toddlers learn new words just as well through conversations on Skype as through conversations in person. (Roseberry, Hirsh, Pasek, & Golinkoff)
  • Children develop their reading skills just as well and sometimes better by using interactive, talking books (for example an iPad) as by working one on one with an adult tutor and paper copy books. (Wood, 2005; Masataka, 2014)
  • Grade school age children who spend more time surfing the internet report feeling less lonely. (Caixia, Rude, & Wang, 2013)
  • Grade school age children who spend more time on the internet improve their reading skills, and children who spend more time playing video games on the internet improve their visual spatial skills. (Jackson, von Eye, Zhao, & Fitzgerald)
  • For adolescents, their amount of internet use does not significantly predict how lonely they feel. (Appel, Holtz, Stiglbauer, & Batinic)
  • In a survey of over 600 US teenagers, the majority had social media experiences that make them feel good about themselves. (Pew Research Center)
  • Significantly fewer teens are bullied online than in person. (Pew Research Center)
  • First year college students feel considerably less adrift if they email and IM to stay in touch with high school friends. (Cummings, Lee, & Kraut)
  • Children who play pro social video games are more likely to help and empathize in real life. (Prot et al.)

Of these findings, I found the one that says fewer teens are bullied online than in person to be most interesting. I found this surprising because it seems like there is so much more media coverage of cyber bullying cases than there is coverage of in-person bullying incidents. It’s good to know that it’s not as common as it seems.

This finding is probably not better known because of the universal sense that children are vulnerable and need protection. Parents are conditioned to believe that the internet is harmful- it seems like the media is always covering the negative, and rarely ever the positive stories about the internet. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics issues recommendations on what media children should and should not be exposed to, and the recommendations tend to be conservative. It’s no surprise that parents are hesitant to let their children use the internet. Like all new technology, there is a fear that the internet will lead to harm, especially to the children who are more vulnerable than the rest of the population.

The internet is also good for older people too, helping to improve their psychological, cognitive, and physical health. The Pew Research Center did a report called “Older Adults and Technology Use” and found some pretty interesting data summarized here:

  • Internet and broadband adoption rates among seniors are steadily increasing, but still well below the national average.
  • Younger, higher-income, and more highly educated seniors use the internet and broadband at rates approaching the general population.
  • A substantial majority of seniors now own cell phones, but smartphones
    remain rare within the 65-and-older population.
  • As is the case in the population as a whole, tablets and e-book readers are
    primarily “elite” devices among older adults.
  • 46% of online seniors use social networking sites, but just 6% use Twitter.
  • As is the case for the online population as a whole, older women are more likely than older men to use social networking sites.
  • Social networking site usage is also more common among the younger cohort of seniors, and adoption drops off dramatically after age 80.
  • Many seniors face physical challenges to using new digital devices.
  • Most older adults say they would need assistance learning how to use new devices and digital services.
  • Once online, most seniors make the internet a daily part of their lives and view it in a
    positive light. Non-users are divided on the relative merits of going online.
  • Older social networking site users socialize more frequently with friends and family
    members than do non-users.

The finding I found most interesting was “Internet and broadband adaption rates among seniors are steadily increasing, but still well below the national average.” More specifically, the survey found that today 59% of seniors report using the internet. This is a huge increase from 2008, when only 35% of seniors reported using the internet. However, 86% of adults report using the internet today, so fewer seniors use the internet today compared to the general adult population.

Tons of research supports the positive effects of internet usage of older adults, which is why it’s important that the internet usage rate among seniors continues to increase. For example, a study by Jinmoo et al. 2015 found that higher levels of internet usage significantly predicted higher levels of social support, reduced loneliness, better life satisfaction, and psychological well being among older adults. A study done by Erickson and Johnson in 2011 found that internet use and self efficacy were also significantly related. Older adults that use the internet had higher perceptions of self efficacy than those who use don’t. As demonstrated by these two studies, the internet has many positive impacts on the psychological health of older adults.

Cognitive and physical health can also be improved. Xavier et al. 2014 found that digital literacy may help reduce cognitive decline among older people. Additionally, Xavier et al. 2013 found that internet use among older adults showed a quantitative association with cancer prevention behaviors.

It’s great that more seniors are using the internet today than ever before. Hopefully the trend continues because there are so many psychological, cognitive, and physical health benefits to be gained from the use of the internet for older adults.

As another finding from the Pew Research Center stated, many older adults say they need assistance learning how to use new devices or digital services. Often times they want to use the internet, but are afraid to ask for help. If you get the chance, I would definitely recommend asking an older person like a grandparent if they need any help learning how to use it. As a part of this class, I actually went back to my hometown for a day to teach my 83-year-old grandma how to use FaceTime and Skype, and answer any other questions she had.

My grandma is pretty tech savvy compared to many older people I know; she already has Facebook, an iPad, and uses her email frequently. However, every so often she needs help changing a setting or learning how to do something on one of her devices.When I got to her house, I showed her how to change the sound settings on her phone, how to change her default browser on her computer, and how to bookmark a website so she can find it later.

Then, we moved on to FaceTime and Skype. I thought her how to make and receive calls on both FaceTime and Skype, and how to add contacts. She was happy that I showed her how to do it because some of our relatives still living in Holland have been wanting to Skype with her. She was very appreciative of my help and said she felt like she learned a lot.

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Here she is with her iPad and phone.


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