Subrahmanyam, Kaveri, Robert E. Kraut, Patricia M. Greenfield, and Elisheva F. Gross. "The Impact of Home Computer Use on Children's Activities and Development." Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 22 (2001): 7-30.

This journal article presents a review of the research on the impact of home computer use on the development of children and adolescents. While the researchers admit that it is yet unclear whether computers are a positive influence in children's lives, there are some initial findings to report. This article starts with a discussion of the time spent by children on computers and the impact of such computer use on other activities such as television viewing. Then the available research on the effects of computer use on children's cognitive and academic skill development, social development and relationships, as well as perceptions of reality and violent behavior are discussed.

Research has shown that teens who had access to the Internet at home averaged about 3 hours a week during weeks when they used it and over 10% used it more than 16 hours a week; this was much more than their parents' use. The teens used the Internet for a variety of purposes, including schoolwork, social communication, and to find information about their interests or hobbies. The research also indicated some differences in use by age, gender, ethnicity, and social class. Computer use went up significantly with age from preschool to elementary school to high school. While boys use the computers to play more video games, overall computer use between the genders seems to be balanced.

White children were much more likely to be regular computer users than black or Hispanic children. Similarly, as neighborhood income and parent education increased, so did children's computer use. It is unclear whether computer use leads to decrease in other activities. Some studies have suggested that computer use leads to a decrease in watching TV, while others suggest it does not. The available research suggests that computer use can and does have an effect on some cognitive abilities. Spatial skills, such as mental rotation, spatial visualization, and the ability to deal with two-dimensional images of a hypothetical two- or three-dimensional space, can all be improved by repeated practice via some computer and video games. Similarly, iconic skills and visual attention could also be further developed through game play. The authors did offer a number of caveats, however. "There is no research that actually documents a link between video game playing, attentional skills, and success in academic performance or specific occupations. Furthermore, much of the research on the impact of computer games on cognitive skills has only measured the effects of game playing immediately after practice, and does not address questions about the cumulative impact of interactive games on cognition."

The authors report that several studies have provided preliminary evidence that computer use is positively correlated with academic achievement, but that they fail to clarify the nature of this relationship. Similar ties were made, in males, between heavy computer game use and lack of "success" in school. Early research suggests that computer game playing does not impact the social networks and characteristics of interactions among children, but that such games can bring family members together for shared activity. More research is needed to see if this is still the case. A study also found that children are frequently more technically fluent than their parents and that the parents often sought out their children's advice on such matters. It is unclear whether this role-reversal might have an adverse impact on family dynamics.

The current statistics make it clear that teens use the Internet for socializing, but it is not clear how this effects the teens' overall socialization. As the authors of the article point out, "the influence depends in part on whether the social uses of the Internet supplement or substitute for other sources of social contact that teens have." Some research has suggested that significant use of the Internet can lead to loneliness, depression, and withdrawal from some sorts of social involvement. These effects were most prominent shortly after initial Internet use, and declined less over time. The report also suggests that based on research done regarding other media, exposure to violence through video games could lead to increased aggression and desensitization. The limited research on this subject so far supports this theory.


This is a well-balanced survey of the limited available research that makes only modest claims about the effects of the technology. The authors avoid grand claims in favor of highly qualified answers that demand further attention and research. The conclusion, rightly then, is a call for additional research, particularly regarding the effects of long-term use on cognitive skills, social relations, and psychological well-being. The authors readily admit that not enough is known to make accurate predictions or assessments of the real impact the technology is having on children.

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