New Worlds: The pros and cons of youth's internet usage

While teenagers are often accused of "wasting" time on social networks, they can contribute to psychological development, TAU professor says.

Facebook logo 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Facebook logo 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The risk of youth wasting huge amounts of time on social networks like Facebook and Twitter as well as the shared videos of YouTube is well known, but a Tel Aviv University researcher claims that these resources can actually promote psychological development. Prof. Moshe Israelashvili of TAU’s Jaime and Joan Constantiner School of Education, with his master’s degree student Taejin Kim and colleague Dr. Gabriel Bukobza, studied 278 teenage girls and boys from schools throughout the country.
They found that many teens were using the Internet as a tool for exploring questions of personal identity, successfully building their own future lives using what they discover on the Web.
The study, published in the Journal of Adolescence, encourages parents and educators to look at engagement with the online world as beneficial for teens. Social networking, Israelashvili says, is a positive example of Internet use: “Facebook use is not in the same category as gambling or gaming,” he insists, and as a result researchers should redefine the characteristics of the disorder called “Internet addiction” in adolescents.
The teens were asked to rate themselves in terms of Internet use, ego clarification and self-understanding and how well they related to their peer groups. The researchers discovered there was a negative correlation between Internet overuse and the teens' levels of ego development and clarity of self-perception.
This, he said, is an indication that some Internet use is destructive and isolating while some is informative and serves a socializing function.
These results show that the current understanding of adolescent Internet addiction demands redefinition. Psychiatrists now classify an “Internet addict” as a person who spends more than 38 hours on the Internet every week. But it’s the quality, not the quantity that matters, argues Israelashvili.
The researchers determined that many teens who participated in the study met the psychiatric standard of “Internet addiction” but were actually using the Internet as a tool to aid in their journey of self-discovery.
There are two different kinds of teenage Web addicts, he continued. The first group is composed of adolescents who really are addicted, misusing the Internet with things like online gaming and gambling or pornographic websites, isolating themselves from the world around them. The second can be defined as “self-clarification seekers” whose use of the Internet helps them comprehensively define their own identities and place in the world. They tend to use the Internet for social networking and information gathering, such as on news sites or Twitter.
Parents and educators should change the conversations they have with teens about Internet use, the researchers urge. The Web is a big part of our modern lifestyle, and both adults and children are spending more time there. As a result, what is important is how that time is used. Students must learn to use the Internet in a healthy way – as a source of knowledge about themselves in relation to their peers around the world, recommends Israelashvili. If parents still don't like the amount of time their teens are spending in front of the computer, they should consider becoming an information resource for their adolescent children, encouraging a healthy flow of conversation in the household itself.
“Too many parents are too preoccupied,” the researcher says. “They demand high academic achievements and place less importance on teaching their children how to face the world.”
Teens won't give up the Internet, but they may spend less time online if family interactions meet some of the same needs.
“By the time teens reach the age of 18 or 19 they enter a new phase of life called ‘emerging adulthood,’ in which they take the lessons of their adolescence and implement them to build a more independent life. If they have spent their teenage years worrying only about their academic performance or gaming, they won't be able to manage well during their emerging adulthood and might have difficulties in making personal decisions and relating well to the world around them,” he concludes.
What makes a driver ready to buy a car or discourages him or her from doing so? Sales data cannot provide enough information to accurately forecast the extent of sales, and especially not the proportion of people declining to buy. This information is very important to auto companies like General Motors, which has signed a research collaboration agreement with the Hebrew University’s Yissum Research Development Company.
The first research project in the collaboration is aimed at learning how to maximize car sales.
Under the terms of the agreement, General Motors will fund research projects of interest led by HU staffers and in return will be granted a right of first offer for procuring an exclusive license to use any invention or product that results from the research.
The Israelis will develop accurate mathematical models that will take into account not only sales data but also information on people who have decided against buying a car. Prof. Jacob Goldenberg and Keren Hadad from the marketing department of the university’s School of Business Administration will lead the project and provide an in-depth analysis on the rate of buying and factors contributing to the decision process.
The HU group has developed a mathematical diffusion model that incorporates potential consumers' decisions to decline to purchase in response to negative forces acting upon them.
“We are proud to collaborate with GM, a world leader in vehicle manufacturing. Our researchers combine excellence and creativity and offer a unique outlook on consumer decision-making that could have a significant impact on market understanding and sales in many fields and help with long-term company business planning,” said Yissum CEO Yaacov Michlin.