Is internet use safe for adolescents?

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Research has shown that there is no evidence that surfing the web for 30 hours per week, which is considered normal use, harms the developing brains of teenagers.

However, this does not mean that there is no negative impact, said University College London PhD student Kathryn Mills, who analysed 134 previous studies focusing on occasional usage.

“Finding lack of evidence is different to finding evidence of no effect,” she explained.

Although it is still inconclusive, the study results should offer some peace of mind for parents with children who use the internet moderately, said Mills.

Occasional internet use could even help teenagers acquire new skills needed in the modern age, she added.

However, 2011 research by Chinese radiologists and neuroscientists showed that heavy internet usage, or surfing the web at least eight hours per day, damages the grey matter in the brains of teenagers.

The researchers warned that this could diminish their memory, concentration and decision-making skills. It could even lower their inhibitions, resulting in inappropriate behaviour.

Neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield also cautioned that computer use and social media sites could reduce the attention span of children.

In addition, adolescents who are addicted to the internet could suffer from brain damage that is normally observed in drug users, claimed a 2012 study.

Using MRI scans to compare the brains of frequent users and occasional users, this study discovered deterioration in the white matter of those who are addicted to online games.