Internet and Children’s Psychological Well-Being



The advancements in information and communication technologies have made it possible for everyone across the world to have access to Internet for multiple reasons which include information, communication and entertainment. The United Nations (UN) estimates that 3.5 billion people are currently using internet across the world. One-third of these internet users are under the age of 18.[1] For children, internet is not merely an information resource but an essential and critical part of their world.[2]

However, the growing and nearly universal access of Internet is having a severe impact on children. For the social and emotional development of children, late childhood and adolescence is considered critical time periods. Internet usage can have both beneficial and detrimental effects on the wellbeing of children because of the multiple activities that can be pursued online. Scholars have highlighted the fact that how internet can help in mastering skills that are needed for the modern workplace in addition to self-expression opportunities, communication and information access. On the contrary, internet usage is viewed as the opportunity cost for beneficial activities like reading, playing sports and face to face interactions with family and friends. Moreover, internet is viewed as a medium that exposes children to ‘inaccurate and harmful content, and sexual and commercial exploitation.’[3]

While early empirical studies[4] pointed to the overall negative effect of Internet usage on wellbeing, recent evidence is inconclusive about such an assertion. Some scholars have found a positive correlation between Internet usage and social capital[5] whereas other scholars have observed a negative influence on the internet usage of wellbeing, which operates largely via relative income effects.[6]

In this article, I analyze the various impact of internet usage on the social and emotional development of children. In recent times, the potential influence of the internet on the emotional health and wellbeing of children is attracting increased attention across multiple disciplines. The topic is of paramount importance because there is little evidence about the impact of internet usage on wellbeing and mental health of children. The current literature is very ambiguous when it comes to investigation of Internet effect on wellbeing and mental health of children.[7]

Internet and Children’s Well-Being: The Four Channels

Scholars have found that there are four distinct channels through which internet can affect well-being.[8] Apart from these four channels and several other causal channels, it is important to realize that the wellbeing of children is also indirectly impacted through intergenerational effects. Moreover, parents’ behaviours and wellbeing can also be shaped by internet use which in turn affect their children.[9]

Time Use Patterns – The internet has the potential to influence wellbeing because it changes time use patterns. Such a situation can make existing tasks more efficient and thus freeing up time for other activities. Meanwhile, there is evidence that internet can crowd-out activities that are beneficial for wellbeing.[10] Moreover, children are mostly unaware of online commercial transactions.[11] Less than half of 12-15 year olds were aware of paid endorsement or personalized advertising. These teenagers could also not identify spot advertising in online search results.[12]

Facilitating New ActivitiesInternet has facilitated new activities which have either positive or negative effects on wellbeing. It has enabled the introduction of online gaming, digital social networks, streaming entertainment, etc. These activities enable children to develop creativity, social skills, stimulation and relaxation. However, there are potential negative effects of these services such as addiction, commercial exploitation and increased chances of exposure to inappropriate content.[13] Moreover, evidence point towards the fact that gaming and streaming entertainment displace time spent on schoolwork.[14]

Enables Greater Access to InformationApart from introducing new activities, internet has also provided greater access to information, which contribute towards social and educational development. However, it is important to realize that the proliferation of inaccurate content, disinformation and sexual and violent content can be damaging to children’s wellbeing. Moreover, scholars suggest that overwhelming exposure to information can affect concentration and decrease attention spans.

New Communications Tools – Internet provides new communication tools especially social media platforms. These tools enable expanding the scope and intensity of social interactions, which are considered as the strongest predictors of wellbeing.[15] Social media has become an essential part of young people’s lives. Despite the fact that majority of the websites have a minimum age requirement of 13 years, a survey revealed that more than 75 per cent of 10-12 year olds have a social media presence. Therefore, scholars believe that social media usage is potentially a very important mechanism through which children’s emotional health can be influenced.

Unhappiness and Internet Usage

A 2017 inquiry by the UK’s House of Lords on ‘children and the internet’ came to the conclusion that the notion of self-regulation hampers any consideration for wellbeing as platforms regard commercial considerations as the key priority.[16] The House of Lords inquiry also observed a correlation between increasing numbers of unhappy and anxious children and the growth in Internet use.

Children’s Emotional Health and Internet Usage

Scholars have observed a negative correlation between internet usage and wellbeing domains. They have found that the increase in internet usage contributes to ensuring that children feel worse about their schoolwork, appearance, friends and the school they attend. For example, a one per cent increase in broadband speed reduces how children feel about their appearance by approximately 0.6 per cent. In terms of gender, scholars have concluded that girls face the major brunt of internet’s adverse effects when compared to boys. The strongest effect that both boys and girls face is with respect to how they feel about their appearance.


Realizing the growing influence of internet on the wellbeing of children, it is important to introduce interventions by limiting the usage of Internet and social media during the childhood phase. These timely interventions will help in improving their emotional health. Parents have a central role to play in order to implement such interventions. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has transitioned mode of learning from physical classrooms to distance learning. However, it is important that a hybrid approach should be adopted for imparting education by encouraging parents to focus on home tutoring along with limited interactions of devices and internet.


While studying the impact of internet on children’s wellbeing, Emily McDool et al postulates the crowding out hypothesis. This hypothesis implies that Internet usage reduces the time spent on other beneficial activities and from the adverse effect of social media use. A review of published literature for extracting useful insights support the assertion that beneficial activities are sacrificed for more time spent on the internet. Internet usage also contributes towards the adverse effect of increased social media use.


Written By: Tehreem Zaki & Syeda Alina Sajid

The writers can be reached


[1] “Nearly 47 per cent of global population now online – UN report,” UN News, last modified September 15, 2016,

[2] “Select Committee on Communications Growing up with the internet,” UK Parliament, last modified March 21, 2017,

[3] Linda A. Jackson, Hiram E. Fitzgerald, Yong Zhao, Anthony Kolenic, Alexander Von Eye, and Rena Harold. “Information Technology (IT) use and children’s psychological well-being.” Cyber Psychology & Behavior 11, no. 6 (2008): 755-757.

[4] Viktor Brenner. “Psychology of computer use: XLVII. Parameters of Internet use, abuse and addiction: the first 90 days of the Internet Usage Survey.” Psychological reports 80, no. 3 (1997): 879-882 and Robert Kraut, Michael Patterson, Vicki Lundmark, Sara Kiesler, Tridas Mukophadhyay, and William Scherlis. “Internet paradox: A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being?.” American psychologist 53, no. 9 (1998): 1017.

[5] Stefan Bauernschuster, Oliver Falck, and Ludger Woessmann. “Surfing alone? The Internet and social capital: Evidence from an unforeseeable technological mistake.” Journal of Public Economics 117 (2014): 73-89.

[6] Steffen Lohmann. “Information technologies and subjective well-being: does the Internet raise material aspirations?.” Oxford Economic Papers 67, no. 3 (2015): 740-759.

[7] Veronika Kalmus, Andra Siibak, and Lukas Blinka. “Internet and child well-being.” (2013).

[8] Fulvio Castellacci and Vegard Tveito, “Internet use and well-being: A survey and a theoretical framework.” Research policy 47, no. 1 (2018): 308-325.

[9] Fabian T. Pfeffer, and Robert F. Schoeni. “Intergenerational transmission of well-being.” Focus 31, no. 1 (2014).

[10] Megan A. Moreno, Lauren A. Jelenchick, Rosalind Koff, Jens C. Eickhoff, Natalie Goniu, Angela Davis, Henry N. Young, Elizabeth D. Cox, and Dimitri A. Christakis. “Associations between internet use and fitness among college students: an experience sampling approach.” Journal of Interaction Science 1, no. 1 (2013): 1-8 and Scott Wallsten. What are we not doing when we’re online. No. w19549. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2013.

[11] “Select Committee on Communications Growing up with the internet,” UK Parliament, last modified March 21, 2017,

[12] Children and parents: Media use and attitudes report. Ofcom, 2012.

[13] Daria J. Kuss, and Mark D. Griffiths. “Online gaming addiction in children and adolescents: A review of empirical research.” Journal of behavioral addictions 1, no. 1 (2012): 3-22.

[14] Victoria J. Rideout, Ulla G. Foehr, and Donald F. Roberts. “Generation M 2: Media in the Lives of 8-to 18-Year-Olds.” Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (2010).

[15] Daniel Kahnerman, Edward Diener, and Norbert Schwarz, eds. Well-being: Foundations of hedonic psychology. Russell Sage Foundation, 1999.

[16] “Select Committee on Communications Growing up with the internet,” UK Parliament, last modified March 21, 2017,

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