Is the Internet Good or Bad for Your Child’s Brain and Learning?

Once upon a time I was extremely opposed to all social networks. I committed myself to a life of non-conformity in which I would never join a social network. Well, guess what? I am now an active member of not just one social network, but four. It all started as a means to job fulfillment… but I must admit that I have come to enjoy the pleasure of making a witty comment on Facebook or Twitter, I get excited when I find “the coolest thing ever” on Pinterest, and I never cease to be amazed by how much traffic I can drive to one of our blog posts through LinkedIn Groups. But… I will die being able to say that I never conformed in regards to the big social network of my high school days… MySpace… so ha!

internet and brain developmentWhy was I originally so opposed to social networks? Because I think people should be able to communicate in real life. I HATE when people hover over their phones and ignore the people around them. I think real life interaction should always take precedence over online interaction. But… I do love information. I have been exposed to so many ideas that have advanced my understanding of the world that I would’ve never discovered were it not for the internet. But have I wasted a minute or two (or ten, or fifteen) mindlessly rummaging through social networks… yep, I’ve done that.

Researchers (that I wouldn’t know about without the internet) have been dying to figure out how the internet is impacting our brains for years. Here are some of their latest findings:

The positive impacts of the internet on your child’s brain and learning development:

“Skills being honed on social networks today will be critical tomorrow, as work will be dominated by fast-moving, geographically diverse, free-agent teams of workers connected via socially mediating technologies.”

Fred Stutzman, creator of the software Freedom and Anti-Social

“The replacement of memorization by analysis will be the biggest boon to society since the coming of mass literacy in the late 19th to early 20th century.”

Paul Jones, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

“There is no doubt that brains are being rewired. The techniques and mechanisms to engage in rapid-fire attention shifting will be extremely useful for the creative class.”

Danah Boyd, senior researcher with Microsoft Research

“It’s still early, but I believe we will see significant, positive, and even astounding improvements in the cognitive abilities of young people within the next five years.”

Dave Rogers, Yahoo Kids

“If we can stop fretting about what we’re losing, we can make room to get excited about what we’re gaining: the ability to multitask, to feel connected to ‘strangers’ as well as neighbors, to create media unselfconsciously, to live in a society of producers rather than consumers. The question we face as individuals, organizations, educators and perhaps especially as parents is how we can help today’s kids to prepare for that world—the world they will actually live in and help to create—instead of the world we are already nostalgic for.”

Alexandra Samuel, director, Social + Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University

“…I think the Internet has brought forward not only education, but thinking. While we still want to cultivate in youth the intellectual rigor to solve problems both quantitatively and qualitatively, we have gotten them out of the business of memorizing facts and rules and into the business of applying those facts and rules to complex problems. In particular, I have hope for improved collaboration from these new differently ‘wired’ brains, for these teens and young adults are learning in online environments where working together and developing team skills allows them to advance.”

Perry Hewitt, director of digital communications/communications services, Harvard University


The negative impacts of the internet on your child’s brain and learning development:

“Society is becoming conditioned into dependence on technology in ways that, if that technology suddenly disappears or breaks down, will render people functionally useless. What does that mean for individual and social resiliency?”

Richard Forno, cybersecurity expert

“Short attention spans resulting from quick interactions will be detrimental to focusing on the harder problems and we will probably see a stagnation in many areas: technology, even social venues such as literature. The people who will strive and lead the charge will be the ones able to disconnect themselves to focus.”

Alvaro Retana, distinguished technologist, HP

“When the emphasis of our social exchanges shifts from the now to the next, and the social currency of being able to say ‘I was there first’ rises, we will naturally devalue retrospective reflection and the wisdom it imparts.”

Stephen Masiclat, Syracuse University

Of all the research I have read about this issue, this is the statement that I believe holds the most truth:

“An adult’s IQ can be influenced much either way by reading anything, and I would guess that smart people will use the Internet for smart things and stupid people will use it for stupid things in the same way that smart people read literature and stupid people read crap fiction.”

- Sandra Kelly, 3M Corp.’s Market Research Manager

So… as long as you are teaching your child about balance and how to use the internet for “smart” things and not letting them be on the internet all the time… the internet can increase their access to knowledge and information.

One thing I’ve heard of that is growing among many families is picking a day to be unplugged. E.g. every Sunday everyone turns off all of their gadgets and every computer and phone and just enjoy the company of each other. This is a great way to maintain balance between technology and real life.

What do you think?


About Angela Stevens

Angela is the Marketing Manager at Reading Horizons. She has been with the company since September 2009 and through her time with the company has gained a passion for literacy. When she is not promoting literacy she enjoys reading, boating, playing cards, and trying anything new that presents itself.

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