Children Becoming Lost in (Cyber)Space

Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.

The National Psychologist

March/April 1999


Approximately one in five adults in the United States is currently online. This figure pales in comparison to the two in three 12-19 year old children who are actively surfing the web. Since many of you work with children and parents, it is important to address the "Good, Bad and Ugly" of what has been called the Net Generation.

The Good Recent surveys have shown that increased Internet usage leads to
decreased television viewing.
The Bad Research shows that increased net time leads to decreased sleep.
The Ugly Home Net and other recent studies show that more time online means
more online friends and fewer real-life friends.

The Good Most children learn how to surf at school. Eighty percent of schools have an Acceptable Use Policy that details what students can and cannot do on the computer. The child and the parent must sign this AUP.
The Bad Only one in three schools use filtering software that prohibits students
from visiting sites that are deemed unacceptable for children.
The Ugly The top three sites visited by boys are espn.com, playboy.com and
sonyonline.com. The top three sites visited by girls are eonline.com,
pathfinder.com and titanicmovie.com - all entertainment sites.

The Good A Microsoft study showed that increased time on the web was related to
improved grades.
The Bad Research shows that teens spend an average of 3 hours daily on the web.
The Ugly A major survey for the White House Internet Summit found that 42% of parents supervised their children's Internet time only "a little" and 54%
did not supervise at all.

What does this mean for the mental health professional dealing with children, teenagers and parents? It means that you are probably seeing more technology-related issues than ever before. Several psychologists have told me that they are seeing children as young as 10 years old expressing anxiety over the Y2K crisis (see my article in last month's issue of The National Psychologist on this topic).

Others have told me that parents are feeling helpless in regaining a relationship with their children who are spending all their waking hours in a "Techno-Cocoon." Finally, study after study shows that parents are very concerned about what their children are doing on the computer, but often feel too intimidated by their lack of knowledge to ask.

What can be done? First, therapists need to be aware that the Internet is a major force in the lives of children today. America Online chat rooms are mobbed and not all teens are seeking help on their homework. Second, therapists should be web-savvy so that they can visit sites that their patients choose. Go in a chat room and observe. Visit the most popular teen sites and see what they are freely viewing. Third, encourage parents to establish healthy limits on Internet surfing. This should be done in a family discussion of topics such as: (1) how long a family member can be on the computer without taking a break and doing something different, (2) where the computer will be housed (preferably in a common area), (3) rules for which sites are and are not acceptable, and (4) continual open sharing of Internet experiences.

Parents should also not just sign the Acceptable Use Policy sent home by the school, but to include it in the family discussion. Finally, whenever possible, parents should find time to do "family computing." This can include surfing for information on a topic of interest to the whole family (what kind of dog would be best for us?), having your child show you a new game he or she is enjoying and even loading a new computer program together and exploring it as a family.

It has been a wild ride for the last three years and research promises that it will only get bumpier as more children and adults go online. Be prepared and prepare your clients.

Final Thoughts:

A new survey found that 45% of home PCs crash more than once a week, with many experiencing one or more crashes a day. Windows 95, Internet Explorer and other applications appear to be the main culprits, but most applications will crash now and again. What can you do? If your computer tells you that a program has crashed you can reload it and try again. If it crashes again soon, restart your computer (click the Start button and then Shut Down and then select Restart). If your system freezes and you can't move the cursor with the mouse, try pressing the CTRL-ALT-DELETE keys at the same time. This may bring a menu on the screen that will allow you to shut down the program that crashed. If the computer is totally frozen, turn it off, wait for 10 seconds and turn it back on.

Are web pages loading slowly when you surf the net? Try turning off the graphics. In Netscape Communicator click the Edit menu and then click Preferences. Go to Advanced and then click the box labeled Automatically Load Images to remove the checkmark. If you want the graphics to load again, just click the box to insert the check mark and click Reload on the top toolbar. In Internet Explorer, click View, Internet Options, Advanced, Show Pictures to turn off graphics. On AOL for Windows 95, click My AOL icon on the toolbar, Preferences, WWW, General and then uncheck the Show pictures box.


Copyright, 1998, The National Psychologist. Reprinted with permission. The National Psychologist is a privately-owned bimonthly newspaper which may be purchased for $30 a year. Write or call: TNP, 6100 Channingway Blvd., Suite 303, Columbus, OH 43232; telephone: 614.861.1999 or fax with Visa or MC to 614.861.1996.