Spending Time Online Good for Teens?

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Forget that image of a mislead teen ditching his friends to play World of Warcraft in his parents’ basement – according  to one new report, spending time online is actually beneficial to teen development. Last week, the MacArthur Foundation released a study indicating that teens use the Web to strengthen social skills and learn more about subjects that their friends might not share an interest in.

“There are myths about kids spending time online – that it is dangerous or making them lazy,” said report author Mizuko Ito, a researcher at the University of California, Irvine. “But we found that spending time online is essential for young people to pick up the social and technical skills they need to be competent citizens in the digital age.”

The team of 28 researchers interviewed over 800 young people and their parents over the course of three years, as well as observing them on sites like MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube. They identified two primary ways that teens use the Web: friendship-driven and interest-driven, both beneficial.

Friendship-driven use, like participating in social networks, turned out to be similar to the socializing kids conduct face to face, but with new intricacies due to the medium. Interest-driven use allowed kids to explore subjects on their own, learning in a self-directed way, as opposed to the heavily guided approach found in schools.

Though the news was mostly positive, the study did indicate that many kids don’t take advantage of the technical resources available on the Web to conduct interest-driven learning, focusing on socializing alone instead.