"We had the same question for television decades ago, but I think the Internet is more important than television because it's interactive," says Jackson. "It's 24/7 and it's ubiquitous in young people's lives."
The positive effects of Internet use appear especially pronounced among poor children, say researchers. Unfortunately, these children are also the least likely to have home computers, which some experts say may put them at a disadvantage.
"The interesting twist here is that the very children who are most likely to benefit from home Internet access are the ones least likely to have it," says Jackson. "It's a classic digital divide issue."
Point, click and read
In her research, published in a 2006 Developmental Psychology (Vol. 42, No. 3, pages 429-435) special section on Internet use, Jackson studied 140 urban children as part of HomeNetToo, a longitudinal field study designed to assess the effects of Internet use in low-income families. Most of the child participants were African American and around 13 years old; 75 percent lived in single-parent households with an average annual income of $15,000 or less. The children were also underperforming in school, scoring in the 30th percentile on...