Journal Issue: Children and Computer Technology Volume 10 Number 2 Fall/Winter 2000
The time is ripe to assess the impact of home computer use on child and adolescent development. Most American children now have access to home computers and are using them for everything from playing games to doing schoolwork to chatting with friends via e-mail to surfing the Web. In 1999, an estimated 67% of households with children had a computer game system such as Sega or Nintendo,1 60% had home computers, and 37% had home access to the Internet—more than twice the percentage with access in 1996.2 Although children still spend more time watching television than using computers, when a nationally representative sample of children ages 8 to 18 were asked which medium they would choose to bring with them to a desert isle, more chose a computer with Internet access than any other medium, including television.3
With the increased role of home computers in children's lives has come increased concern about how children may be affected. Time spent on home computers may displace other activities that have more developmental value, and the merit of the computer-based activities has also been questioned. Surveys of parents suggest that they buy home computers and subscribe to Internet access to provide educational opportunities for their children and to prepare them for the “information age.”4 Although they are increasingly concerned about the influence of the Web on their children and are disappointed with some of the online activities their children engage in—such as games and browsing the Internet to download lyrics of popular songs and pictures of rock stars—parents generally view computers favorably, and even consider children without home computers to be at a disadvantage. 5
Although research on the effects of children's use of home computers is still sketchy and ambiguous, some initial indications of positive and negative effects are beginning to emerge. This article begins by describing the increasing amount of time children are spending on home computers and the impact of computer use on other activities. This discussion is followed by a survey of the available research about the effects of home computer use on children's activities and development in four broad areas: (1) physical well-being, (2) cognitive and academic skill development, (3) social development and relationships, and (4) perceptions of reality. The article concludes with a summary of the issues requiring further study to better understand what can be done to ensure that children's use of home computers has a positive impact on their lives.