Why study the impacts of ICT on children and adolescents?
Because children and adolescents use these technologies on a daily basis for many different purposes. This was the case even before the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the use of ICT significantly increased during it. The transition from childhood to adolescence and adolescence itself are periods of significant bio-psycho-social development. The child is transitioning into an autonomous adult – creating a more comprehensive picture of who they are and what they want to achieve in life. They learn to build and maintain close relationships. This period is thus highly important.
The Internet has brought new ways to communicate with people, spend our free time, educate ourselves, and bring an immense amount of information and materials that are much more available than ever before. This brings up numerous questions – how does it affect the development of children and adolescents? Is the Internet helping them or harming them? Under what circumstances and which children? The research needs to aim to answer these questions to ensure the healthy development of children and adolescents and, from a long-term perspective, a healthy society.
We believe that the findings of this research will deepen not only our theoretical understanding of the impacts of ICT on adolescents but will also be valuable in other fields of research. Based on these findings, it will, for example, be possible to more adequately structure prevention programs, help schools and teachers to prevent cyberbullying, or to provide recommendations to parents.
The longitudinal research, in which the same people participate repeatedly, allows us to identify the causes and consequences. Research on ICT usage often utilizes cross-sectional design (collecting data at one time-point). However, the drawback of this design is its inability to learn more about causality - what was the cause and what is the consequence. For example, the media often publish articles on how playing violent videogames leads to aggressive behavior. However, suppose the given study used cross-sectional data. In that case, we cannot discern the possibility that it is the other way around and that aggressive behavior leads to playing violent videogames. To disentangle causes from consequences, we need to use different designs. This is why longitudinal research is fundamental and necessary, even though it is also more demanding–both for the researchers and the participants.