On no issue has research on the social effects of the Internet been more contentious than as to its effect on close relationships
On no issue has research on the social effects of the Internet been more contentious than as to its effect on close relationships, such as those with family and friends. One study that received considerable media attention was the large-scale survey reported by Nie and Erbring (2000 6). This study concluded that Internet use led to negative outcomes for the individualizer, such as increases in depression and loneliness, and neglect of existing close relationships. In the press release, Nie & Erbring (2000) reported data from a U.S. nationwide survey of approximately 4000 people, and concluded from those data that heavy Internet use resulted in less time spent with one’s family and friends. Several scholars suggest potential intergenerational conflicts in families that have adopted the Internet (Turow and Nir, 2000 7). One common explanation is the development of expectation gaps between parents and youth. Studies have shown that most parents seem to view the Internet as a positive new force in children’s lives, and surveys in different countries report that families buy computers and connect their children to the Internet at home mainly for educational purposes (Lenhart et al. 2001 8). Many parents believe that the Internet can help their children to do better at school, do more thorough research for homework, and help them learn worthwhile things. Livingstone (2002) 9 found that only 6% of parents were concerned about their children’s use of computers and the Internet. Parents were far more concerned about illegal drugs (51%), crime (39%), and educational standards (38%). These data suggest that when viewed in the context of other hazards children face, parents perceive that there are more serious threats to children’s well-being than their children’s computer and Internet use. However, 50% of the parents in Livingstone’s (2000) study reported having rules about children’s use of the Internet. In contrast, children reported about half as many restrictions as their parents. The inconsistency between reports of parents and of their children points to a need for a better understanding of computers and Internet use in family contexts on a day-to-day basis. This may require observational and longitudinal data in addition to self-report by children and parents.