Internet Zombies – Parents & Caregivers Beware

March 28, 2022

Fighting Fear-Based Juvenoic Click Bait Headlines

Recently, the below noted link was brought to our attention by one of our followers given that it was starting to trend on some online parent talk groups they frequent:

This article and accompanying video were written and produced by StudyFinds, a digital multimedia company located in the United States. On their site, StudyFinds states:

“StudyFinds sets out to find new research that speaks to mass audiences — without all the scientific jargon. The stories we publish are digestible, summarized versions of research that are intended to stir debate: We do not agree nor disagree with any of the studies we post, rather, we encourage our readers to debate the veracity of the findings themselves.” (1).

This posting is about debating the veracity of the findings themselves as mentioned in both the article and the video noted above. However, before we do this, some context-specific to the article and video is important for the reader consider.

The title of the article is a classic clickbait strategy designed by digital multimedia companies to invoke emotion (stir debate), thus increasing the likelihood that the reader will click on it. There is no doubt that the headline-grabbing title “Screen Time Terrors: 7 in 10 parents fear their kids are becoming internet zombies” would invoke emotion in parents specific to technology. The main challenge here is the article title does not reflect the commentary presented. It is not that kids are “internet zombies” but parents fear it. Further, the video and article’s content imply internet zombies is a real measurable epidemic to then present solutions.

When we read the article and watched the video, it was interesting to note that StudyFinds stated that the information they were sharing was from a study. The video host commenting on the survey results stated, “haven’t read it yet.” My question – if you haven’t read it yet, why speak on its content? Also, this survey was about how parents felt about what their kids are doing online and may not be reflective of what they are doing online based upon good independent academic peer-reviewed research – something we will speak to later in this posting. Again, although the study claims parents fear it, does not mean that it is objectivity occurring.

The study being reviewed was conducted by OnePoll, a market research company. The results from such organizations are then commonly used by the vendor paying for the survey to use in their marketing material; better known as “advertorials” or “PR Surveys” (2). In fact, in the above-noted article, the author rightly stated that the survey was “conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Lightspeed Systems.” Lightspeed Systems is an “Online Safety and Education Solutions” company that provides technology that “empowers schools around the world to improve education and safeguard students online” (5), a worthy and noble goal in our opinion.

Why is the who that conducted and funded the survey important? – because of perceived or real conflicts of interest issues. These issues would include – did the funders (vendors) have a role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the results; and decision to submit the results for publication in the actual article. In credible and independent peered-reviewed research, these conflicts are always mentioned. Of interest, we could not locate the survey on the OnePoll or Lightspeed Systems websites for review to answer any of these questions. This business relationship does not mean all for-profit studies are wrong. It all comes down to methods in how the research was conducted. Proper academic and research convection is to link or source all material used. We are disappointed StudyFinds linked only to the companies mentioned and did not provide a copy of the actual research they were reviewing.

Now to debating some of the comments made in both the article and the video. There were some comments that we do not disagree with such as – not allowing an 11yr old to surf online unsupervised, or computers should be in the family room and not the bedroom. However, here are the more clickbait fear-based juvenoic comments that we wish to address:

  • The Title of the article “Screen time terrors: 7 in 10 parents fear their kids are becoming internet zombies”
  • The title on the video “Stop Your Kids From Becoming Internet Zombies” – This completely removes the “parent fears” part from the actual study
  • In the video the narrator stated, “Is all that time online turning kids’ brains into mush, Probably” – What are they founding that conclusion on?

There is absolutely ZERO methodologically good academic peer-reviewed research that would support such juvenoic fear-based titles, headings, or statements… ZERO! Don’t believe us, here’s a chapter from our free web-book of actual peer-reviewed academic studies, with citations to support this fact (4)

Technology and the internet is not all sugar and spice and everything nice. Are there emotional, psychological, physical, and social challenges associated with onlife problematic behavior? Yes, there are, and we speak to some of these challenges, with study citations, that parents and teens need to be aware of in our web book. Newer research is showing us that digital affordance, through the use of algorithms used by some social media platforms, can undermine mental wellness thus increasing exposure to online harmful content for some youth who are already at risk. However, don’t believe all the hype associated with social media, and its negative effects on mental wellness, as being the cause of this decline that is pushed by some special interest groups or juvenoic fear-based headlined articles. As Dr. Sonia Livingstone stated, “The relationship between digital life and mental health is best characterized by a complex mix of positive and negative influences varying over time both within and between individuals – conditioned and moderated by personal characteristics and cultural, historical, and socio-economic factors” (5).

Technology is NOT turning youth into internet zombies or turning their brains to mush – but parents and caregivers who do not educate themselves on the strengths and challenges of technology, via quality academic peer-reviewed research and education, will continually fall prey to such clickbait headlines. These click-bait headlines and comments will only continue to further divide and cause conflict between parents and their kids when it comes to technology use. Parents and caregivers beware!

Digital Food For Thought

The White Hatter







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