The responses of 95 students – 51 boys and 44 girls – from a Canadian primary school were surveyed and analysed by Curtin School of Education lecturer Dr Genevieve Johnson.
Dr Johnson, who has completed many studies on how communication technologies affect the development of children, noticed that boys who used email recorded higher levels of self-esteem with peers.
The findings showed that boys who did not use email had similar levels of self-esteem to boys from earlier generations who did not watch TV.
“Think back to when you were a little kid, if one of your friends didn’t have a lunch box with the latest cartoon characters on it – because they didn’t watch TV – they were almost socially isolated,” Dr Johnson said.
“So when we say that children who use the internet under certain circumstances are more popular – that’s true.”
Dr Johnson also noticed that girls were more likely to use email at home, but was aware that girls and boys reported similar usage of email while at school.
The study showed that the similarity between boys and girls email use suggested internet studies at schools may be closing the technology gender gap.
Despite this, Dr Johnson believes the attitude from parents and teachers would need to be adjusted in order for students to reap the full benefits of the internet.
Dr Johnson said parents and teachers have always been cautious of the internet in particular of the effect new communication technologies will have on children.
“We’ve got this impression, especially parents, that the internet, including games is something bad,” Dr Johnson said.
“I cannot say that every single online application is associated with positive developmental outcomes – but a large number are.”
Whilst some parents show caution when it comes to their children using the internet, Dr Johnson believes it’s detrimental to children’s learning to assume that each site is negative.
“Any technology is going to have advantages and disadvantages in terms of children’s development,” she said.
“To immediately assume that technologies like texting, the internet, and video games, are a bad thing for children isn’t considering the full picture.
“There’s much more evidence to suggest that technology can be good for children’s development.”
The full study can be found at: Johnson, G. M. (2011). Internet activities and developmental predictors: Gender differences among digital natives. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 10(2), 64-76.