Moderate internet use is cybersafe for teens
MODERATE internet use does not appear to adversely affect the development of teenage brains according to a review of more than 100 published studies of computer use among adolescents.
The findings undermine the arguments put forward by some prominent commentators, such as Oxford neuro-scientist Susan Greenfield, who believe that children are being damaged by prolonged exposure to cyberspace.
However, the author of the latest study emphasised that although she could not find evidence to support Professor Greenfield's hypothesis, there had not been enough research to prove that typical internet use was harmless to the developing adolescent brain.
"The main conclusion from this review was that I did not find evidence that typical internet use is affecting teenage brains," said Kathryn Mills of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London.
"Finding a lack of evidence is different from finding evidence that there is no effect.
"This is why this is a call for more studies.
"We don't know very much about how typical internet use is affecting the adolescent brain.
"Many of the studies look at individuals with problematic internet use and not many look at the majority of the population.
"We typically hear that the internet could be harming brain development but this is actually skewed because it is based on samples that are not representative of the majority of adolescents."
The review analysed 134 published studies on adolescent brains and moderate or typical internet use. It deliberately ignored studies involving heavy internet use involving teenagers that had developed a recognised psychological problem associated with prolonged exposure to the internet.
Ms Mills said she also ignored the effect of late-night internet or computer video games on sleeping patterns among adolescents, which has been a concern to teachers who have complained that some pupils are too tired to concentrate on their schoolwork.
However, she did find that some studies showed a positive benefit of internet use, particularly if it was linked with educational research, sports clubs or social networking.
"Moderate internet use with an emphasis on information gathering is actually related to really positive academic outcomes," Ms Mills said.
Some of the studies she analysed also showed a "Google effect" on the ability of students to remember information that they knew could be found online.
"Expecting to have future access to information made students less likely to remember specific aspects of information but more likely to remember where to find that information," she said.
The study, published in the journal Trends in Neuroscience, says the vast majority of teachers are concerned that today's teenagers have shorter attention spans.